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Tenor Marc Heller takes on two last-minute roles
for Michigan Opera Theatre.
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arc Heller could proba-
bly use two sets of vocal
cords about now
The Jewish opera tenor
recently concluded one of the starring
roles in three performances of A Masked
Ball (Oct.18-26), the opening produc-
tion of Michigan Opera Theatre's fall
season at the Detroit Opera House. On
Nov. 8, he will begin a starring role in
three performances of Madame Butterfly,
to end the fall season.
From mid- to late-October, Heller,
in his MOT debut, performed-his
Masked Ball part with one opera
troupe, while rehearsing his Madame
Butterfly role with another troupe. "It's
been challenging, to say the least," says
The tenor has been singing since he
was a teenager, but didn't launch his
operatic career until he was 30. "But
I'm up to it," he says. "It's a real honor
to play these roles in two big operas —
and it's a lot of fun."
Heller was notified in July that he
would replace Frank Lopardo in the
role of Riccardo in A Masked Bag
Giuseppe Verdi's tale of desire and
political intrigue set in 18th-century
While rehearsing that role in
Detroit, he learned he would be a late
replacement for Andrew Richards as
Lt. Pinkerton, the American naval
officer in Giacomo Puccini's Madame
Butterfly, renowned for its tragic story
of unrequited love.
In addition to his Saturday, Nov. 8,
performance, he'll also appear as
Pinkerton Wednesday, Nov. 12, and
Saturday, Nov. 15. Jeffrey Springer
sings the role Sunday, Nov. 9; Friday,
Nov. 14; and Sunday, Nov. 16.
"Three to four months is a relatively
short time to prepare for an opera role
[like Riccardo]; it usually takes about a
year," Heller explains.
"Getting only one month's notice for
Butterfly is almost impossible, except
for the fact that I've played Pinkerton
before, and with the same women who
are in this cast.
"Fortunately, that makes the role
easier to step into, and a real pleasure
Ning Liang plays the
part of Suzuki in
Liping Zhang per-
forms the title role of
Cio-Cio San, the
geisha who gives her
heart to Pinkerton.
Both are making
their MOT debuts.
Heller's musical career is no sur-
prise. His father, Dr. Alfred Heller, is
a composer and conductor in New
York. His mother, Lissy Gulick, is a
singer and actress.
Born in Florida, Heller moved with
his family, first to Cleveland, where he
attended a yeshiva, and then on to New
York. As a boy, he impressed everyone
by beautifully chanting the Four
Questions during Passover seders.
But rather than chanting, he read the
Hebrew passages at his bar mitzvah. "I
guess I was at an age when I was
becoming rebellious," he offers, "and I
just didn't want to learn the melody.
"But a year later, I really started
singing Broadway-type music, and I got
roles in a number of local productions
and summer stock.
"When I turned 30, I decided that if
I was going to take music seriously, I
should study serious music, so I made
the change to opera."
Heller has sung opera and oratorio at
well-known opera venues international-
ly and throughout the United States.
"Michigan Opera Theatre is the best
company I've ever worked with," he
says. "They're all excellent and have
been a great help in getting me through
two operas." ❑
Michigan Opera Theatre presents
Madame Butterfly 8 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 8; 2 p.m. Sunday,
Nov. 9; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday,
Nov. 12; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday,
Nov. 14-15; and 2 p.m. Sunday,
Nov. 16. All performances are at
the Detroit Opera House, 1526
Broadway, in Detroit. $25-$110.
(313) 237-7464 or