x

Music

French Tenor Belatedly, Triumphantly Makes his Met Debut

December 5, 2022

NEW YORK — Fresh off a triumphant debut, French tenor Benjamin Bernheim seems likely to become a familiar presence at the Metropolitan Opera. Just not too familiar, he hopes.

Bernheim, already a star at major European houses, is one of a new crop of tenors being introduced to American audiences now that pandemic shutdowns and travel restrictions are largely a thing of the past.

And he’s got the support of Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, who says, “It’s always good to get new blood,” and sees Bernheim as someone he can cast in leading roles for years to come.

“Peter wants me to create a profile for myself and for the Met,” Bernheim said in an interview. “For now we’re on a once-a-year basis, which I think is very good, because I also don’t want to be the guy who people say, ‘Oh him again!’ It can very easily be the case. People want to see new faces too.”

He admits he was slightly apprehensive at the prospect of introducing himself to the Met audience as the ruthless, womanizing Duke in Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” His final performance in the role is Thursday.

“He’s not a very lovable character,” Bernheim said. “And you see all the names who sang the Duke here and you feel, wow, that’s pressure, especially for a debut.” Those names include Enrico Caruso, who sang the role for his 1903 debut, and more recently giants like Richard Tucker and Luciano Pavarotti.

It turns out he needn’t have worried. Critic Oussama Zahr in The New York Times called him “a lyric tenor who roars on top with genuinely thrilling, auditorium-filling sound,” while David Salazar wrote on the OperaWire website: “He exuded vocal confidence, every note coming through crystal clear, every phrase elegantly thrown off.”

Bernheim, 37, actually made his U.S. debut back in 2018 in Gounod’s “Faust” at Lyric Opera of Chicago. A Met appearance should have followed quickly, but two obstacles intervened: his need to be near his daughter, now 8, who lives in Switzerland, and the global pandemic.

Now that he’s finally arrived, he’ll be back next season in Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette” and is slated to star in Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” after that. These will both be revivals; for now he’s unwilling to commit to the extra time he’d need to be away from his daughter to rehearse and perform a new production.

He’s excited that audiences will next get to hear him in French repertoire, which he believes is ideally suited to his voice.

“It’s what I’ve been working for so many years, to make my singing voice in French as close as possible to my speaking voice,” he said.

“What I have today is a palette of colors, but a very large palette, maybe because it’s a golden time for my voice,” Bernheim said. “I can go strong, I can go heavy, I can go trumpety but I can also go very soft, and I can still tell a story with the colors, with the mixed voice.”

He’s determined to keep that balance as long as possible and is wary of taking on roles that require a heavier or “spinto” sound.

“If I force, it doesn’t work anymore,” he said. “There are voices in nature more pushy,” he said. “If I push, I lose the light, I lose the sparkle. I have to keep this balance between strength and lightness.”

For instance, he said the French version of Verdi’s “Don Carlos” is “one of my dreams, but I don’t have what it requires to sing it the way I want to. I would be frustrated and I don’t think I would give a good enough rendition to the audience, so this will wait.”

One new spinto role he is planning is Gabriele Adorno in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra.”

“It works with my voice and I can play with the colors,” he said. “But this one little step, and then I need to come back to the lyric, because if I cross the line too many times now, will I be able to come back?”

Perhaps ironically given his successful career, he originally didn’t want to be a tenor at all. From the days his voice started changing and he had to give up singing in a children’s choir in Geneva, Switzerland, he tried to develop his lower register.

“I find the baritone voice much more noble,” he said. “Unfortunately, there was never a doubt. Even my professor, years ago when I was struggling with high notes, I said, ‘Could we try baritone?’ and he said, ‘Oh, Ben, not for you.‘”

RELATED

NORTH LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas police on Tuesday arrested and raided the home of a former "Dances With Wolves" actor turned alleged cult leader accused of sexually assaulting young Indigenous girls during a period spanning two decades, according to police records obtained by The Associated Press.

Top Stories

Columnists

A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

FALMOUTH, MA – The police in Falmouth have identified the victim in an accident involving a car plunging into the ocean on February 20, NBC10 Boston reported.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.

Video

Enter your email address to subscribe

Provide your email address to subscribe. For e.g. [email protected]

You may unsubscribe at any time using the link in our newsletter.