Tenor, Michael Heim
The following has been adapted from a German interview conducted by Barbara Cacao, Vienna Unwrapped, and has been transcribed and translated from a recording.
How much do you travel for work, what’s your favorite city to work in?
I’m constantly on the road, travelling between China, America, Europe, the UK and Sicily, I have also recently been performing in concerts in Dubai, South Africa, Mexico, China and Russia. On average, half of my time is spent travelling, and I work in five to 10 countries each year. Everywhere I go, people love Viennese music. It is feel-good music that creates a warm feeling and connects people.
The travel is quite stressful, especially on my voice, but I love it.
My favourite city? I love Tokyo in Japan. It’s such an interesting culture. I have found the Japanese audiences attend our concerts very well prepared. They are unbelievably enthusiastic, and seem to love operetta and big [operetta] composers such as Strauss, Kálmán and Léhar.
What are the challenges of your work?
Certainly, there is a hard side to what I am doing. When I learned poems by heart in school, I was usually very quick. I remember the teacher once made us recite a poem that I hadn’t learned yet. I was 15th in line and by the time it was my turn I had it memorized! In school, I was fairly lazy, but I did learn to memorize and now I love to do it. Every day, I work on memorizing music, and sing for 2-3 hours.
Another challenge is to perform complicated music such as Wagner.
Describe your perfect New Year’s Eve.
Well, New Year’s Eve has become a little hard since my dad passed away on New Year’s Eve, two hours before I sang in Die Fledermaus. He was a tenor, too, though not a professional singer, but he did set the fire in me for sure.
Singing at Salute to Vienna is always special, and it will always remind me of my father. I have now performed in 6 seasons!
In general, I am not interested in fireworks. So, strangely, my favourite New Year’s Eve was in Philadelphia when we sat in the snowy park waiting for the bangs to come but none did. The city simply did not stage any fireworks, and all was silent. In fact, I was more aware of the shift into a new year in that quiet park than if I had been watching noisy rockets.
What is your favorite musical composition or genre?
I love operetta. I’ve played more than 40 major roles, from Mörbisch am See (an annual open-air festival in Austria’s Burgenland) and Dresden to other big houses.
In Wels (an Upper Austrian town) I discovered Wagner. I sang this music like there was no end; it was like a flight from harmony to harmony, from the most intimate moments to big emotions. If Wagner had painted, he would have included every colour on his palette, that is how I feel about his music; it is colourful and vibrant and deep.
Salute to Vienna is a big highlight in my calendar. I enjoy working with wonderful colleagues and conductors. To make music with such stars, who perform on the highest level, is an honour. What I particularly like about the format of Salute to Vienna is that after every concert, people also know so much more about me. The meet and greet after many of the concerts is such a wonderful way to get to know the audience. And in North America they just embrace you!
What is your next big career move?
In May, I will sing Siegfried in a concert version in Freiberg near Dresden, in the world’s oldest town theater.
Before starting my career as a tenor, I was a journalist at the daily Vorarlberger Nachrichten in Austria. That background in journalism has given me an appreciation for music in a way that I would not have otherwise had. Singing is the language of love, it connects people, and I feel that this is a big part of my job that continues through every performance. In today’s world, where social cohesion and democracy are threatened, this is particularly important. Even without these outside factors, everyone has their own worries, big and small, and music makes something special happen; when I perform, I feel as though I am contributing to a pause in this worry or strain, that I am doing something constructive to make people happy using the magic of music.
Where is home?
My home town is Vorarlberg in Austria. Though I live in Dresden, which is very important for music, I feel it is the soul of the world. And then there is Berlin, where my partner lives. Though I think of my “home planet” as anywhere where there is music.
Through my singing I try to contribute positively to creating a common homeland for people. Art and culture have a connective power that counteracts negative energy. You see that so perfectly with Salute to Vienna. For me it is an honour to participate in these concerts, and to be able to emotionally reach out to so many people.
Before I go, I want to mention Marion and Attila who are the souls of Salute to Vienna. Not only are they enchanting people, they bring so much atmosphere and perfectionism to the concerts.
Photo Credit: Concert image by Chris Lee, New York