TRIBUTE TO CLAUDE

Ken Smith

It is difficult for me to write about a man who was not only my voice teacher, but my mentor in so many ways, my surrogate father and my dear friend. But here is my best shot:


I first heard of Claude Heater in Germany where I lived with my wife, American soprano Christine Weidinger. I heard repeatedly from German and Austrian Wagner lovers “Oh, der Heater—der WAR Siegfried/ Tristan/ Siegmund!” (Oh, Heater—he was a REAL Siegfried and Tristan and Siegmund.) Some years later I was in San Francisco studying with yet another charlatan who took my money to make me less and less competent as a vocalist. At 21 I sang in public for the first time in my life and was taken to be a trained and experienced opera singer— possibly because for years I had listened to recordings of great opera singers and somehow “absorbed” what they were doing. At any rate I was urged to study and pursue an operatic career. Unfortunately my first teacher was incompetent and within a year my impressive vocal sound had diminished to a “nice” quality that nobody found interesting. Mention of my career plans resulted in embarrassed staring at the floor. What followed was 25 years of a seemingly quixotic pursuit of the vocal technique that would restore what I had started out with. I sacrificed thousands of dollars and years of frustration and disappointment in this quest. In San Francisco I received the KO punch and had given up my dream. But I had occasion to meet Claude Heater. In his home in Mill Valley he asked me not to give up singing until he had a shot at helping me. Because of who he was, I decided to try one last time. Within only THREE WEEKS my long dormant voice returned and within three months I was singing like a pro again. That was the magic—no—Claude would hate my putting it that way—that was the SCIENCE of “Der Heater”. More important than what he accomplished with my voice was what he did for my head—for my self-confidence—for my belief in my voice. I felt like facing the public and taking joy in singing for them. For various reasons, it was not to work out that I would have a singing career. But I resolved to share what I had learned from Claude with aspiring singers in hopes of sparing them the agony and disappointment I had experienced and to help stop the spread of the disease of bad singing. So it is that Claude has many vocal grandchildren—all singing extremely well. And they all know the source of what they were being taught and they will all mourn his passing along with Christine and me. Claude was a remarkable and very complex individual. He was always a US Marine. He enlisted in the service at 17, lying about his age to get in. One of his first moves in the Corps was to volunteer as a barber, though he had never cut hair in his life. He reported that after a few disasters he got the hang of it and served successfully in that capacity.

He also served as a DJ for Marine social events. In the stacks of vinyl on hand he discovered a recording of Lauritz Melchoir singing a Wagner selection. He was entranced and decided on the spot to become a singer. So after military service he studied to become a baritone and had a brief career in Broadway musicals before moving to opera and a career in Europe

With encouragement and help from his friend, the great Italian tenor Mario del Monaco he moved into the dramatic tenor repertoire emerging as a genuine Wagnerian Heldentenor. In this literature he became Germany’s number one Wagner tenor and the personal favorite of Wieland Wagner.


Claude was ideal for the Wagner heroic roles. Blessed with movie-star good looks and skilled and gifted as an actor, he completely embodied the ideals of a Nordic god-warrior. And as a tenor he retained the dark rich timbre of a baritone all the way to the top of his range. He carried these qualities into nonWagnerian repertoire with stunning portrayals of Verdi’s Otello and of Floristan in Beethoven’s Fidelio. His solid vocal technique enabled him to sing full voice at all rehearsals, “training”, as he put it, for performances. Always warned by the “experts” to save his voice for performance, he stunned them by out-singing his more “cautious” colleagues in public. He told me that he sang every performance as though it would be his last - holding back nothing - giving it his all.


My wife was already a celebrated soprano specializing in the belcanto repertoire. But, intrigued with what Claude taught me, she went to him for some lessons. His influence enabled her to add to her repertoire the dramatic Verdi and verismo roles and even Senta in “Der Fliegende Hollaender” without sacrificing any of the more lyric roles she had been singing. In fact, her belcanto singing was enhanced by Claude’s instruction, enabling her to cap her resume with acclaimed performances of Norma and Semiramide.


Claude would never take a penny from us for his service as a teacher. He would talk about elaborate schemes to contract a percentage of our earnings as singers; but the documents never appeared. He was posing as a shrewd businessman (which he really was) to hide the fact that it was enough for him to share what he knew with people who he thought deserved it.

His thinking remained “Semper Fi” - Marine to the core—all of his life. He was always raising the bar higher no matter how high it was to start with. If he had a tough singing gig coming up, he would instinctively find a way to make it tougher just to make sure he was strong enough to manage it. And he usually did just fine.

In his spare time, he had portrayed Christ in the classic Ben Hur film of the 1950’s. Though only his strong and beautiful hands and the back of his head were shown on camera, he still provided the most moving and powerful depiction of Jesus in film history. But that wasn’t enough for the Marine in Claude. He had to experience the ordeals of Jesus first hand by wandering in the Sinai Desert for 40 days without food or water. He employed an Arab guide to make sure he could make it back to civilization at the end of the ordeal. But after a few days he collapsed from heat stroke. The well-intentioned guide gave him Arak to revive him. This strong Arab liquor caused Claude to go into a seizure . The guide managed to summon a helicopter to transport Claude to a hospital where he miraculously recovered. A harrowing experience - but like Christ Claude met the devil in a bottle of spirits and levitated heavenward after suffering in the wilderness. He was also intrigued with the miracles reportedly being performed by the late Indian guru Satya Sai Baba. So he traveled to India to see if he could learn to do them himself. He never offered to perform one of the miracles for me. So I assume that Sai Baba was unwilling to share. Whether painting his house in the Canary Islands two days before a performance of Otello in Barcelona or duck hunting in Venice up to his chest in cold water just before performing the same role in Vienna, the Marine in Claude was always making the challenge tougher—and meeting and surpassing the challenge anyway. It was sometimes hard on people he loved because he was inclined to challenge them in the same way that he challenged himself. But his intentions were good - to help them realize their own full potential.


So, with his lovely and faithful partner at his side cheering him on, he fought the greatest challenge of his life at the end of his life. This time he didn’t succeed. But if I know Claude he is presently analyzing what went wrong and how he can arrange to try again and do it better. We love you Claude. Thank you for everything!

From Rusty Raynor

Claude loved sailing. I remember his docked boat, floating on the landing behind his house, where we would sit around the table after supper and tell tales. He told me how he once felt the patriotic flame, and joined the Marines. He reported with his group, and just as they were swearing their allegiance, it dawned on him: “Oh, God! I may have made one hell of a mistake!” Luckily, the sergeant yelled: “does anybody here know how to cut hair?” Claude popped his arm up immediately, thinking it wouldn’t be too hard to shave his buddies’ heads! “Follow me!" - commanded the sergeant. Moments later, Claude found himself staring down the long length of military scissors and the back of the neck of the unit’s commander! Sure enough, Claude managed to “cut it up smart!” A while later, Claude decided he was going to go on Phil Silver’s show; he told that he had been a juggler. Talented as he was, he scheduled his audition after six that evening, grabbed 3 balls from the bucket and disappeared to practice till audition time. He got the part of the juggler alright, in the “Top of the Banana” musical. 

 

Claude has left a tremendous legacy of artistic accomplishments. I refer the future singer to study the available transcripts of Claude’s voice and acting techniques. Reach out to his students, ask his life partner, Juyeong Song, Christine Weidinger, Ken Smith, Dawn Farry, Thomas Truhitt, Marla Vorlovna and Ziola Munuoz about his “pulsation motion” in the windpipe and his exceptional exercises. In keeping his memory, I hope you will all support the “Claude Heater Foundation”.

From Alina (Annemarie Raynor):

I met Claude about a year after I married Marshall - but I knew of him, alright. Marshall was living with Claude, learning and rehearsing “Siegfried”, when we were just at the beginning of our relationship, an online correspondence only at the time. Marshall was just as clueless about technology then as he is now. Claude helped him write emails, send photos, and who knows what else? Apparently, maybe a couple of weeks into our correspondence, upon seeing a photo of me and reading a couple of lines in an email, Claude told Rusty, in his thunder voice: “You get on that plane to Bucharest right now and marry that woman!” Two years later, we landed on the doorstep of Claude’s home in San Francisco, with our little over 1-year old son, and Claude's Godson, Sean Claude Raynor. Claude was a larger-than-life man, complicated, yet simple in his human wishes - you all know about the hidden box of Cherry Coke in the garage, don't you? Behind Claude's dry, really dry sense of humor, there was a giant intelligence and a great heart. Claude and I found common ground on technology, video editing, and on politics. We always challenged each other, and I know we were sometimes just as tired after one of our talks. But when we moved to the States and wound up with Rusty in a Southern California hospital, Claude was right there to support us in one of our scariest moments. I will leave you with this: as you all may know, Claude drove fast. He was a very good driver, but he drove really fast. After a few “experiences” being driven around the hills of San Francisco by Claude, with him waltzing the car on the road, or slapping his hands like the driving wheel was skipping, I had to ask him why on Earth was he driving so fast? Claude answered: “I drive fast enough to put the accident in front of me, behind me.” You put it all behind you now, Claude, may your soul finally find peace!

Dawn Farry

 

No one has affected my musical life and teaching more than my teacher, friend and colleague, Claude Heater.

No one has shared my love and passion for opera and the sound of a great voice than Claude Heater.

No one has been more dedicated to developing fine singers than Claude Heater.

No one caused me to “own myself” and the sound of my voice more than Claude Heater.

No one challenged me more in all arenas of life than Claude Heater.

No one will be more missed in my heart than Claude Heater.

Rest in peace, my friend.

We have all lost an extremely brave man, one of the finest heldentenors and voice teachers the world has ever known; a human being with a heart of fire and gold, a fine friend of which many have had worthwhile conversations about life, opera, singing and current issues.

In my humble opinion, Claude’s life is a true legacy and I’m grateful and amazed that such a persona was in my sphere. In his honor, I will do my best to continue to pass on my understanding of his “take” on the voice, his techniques and focus on making fine singers for the world to hear, to help make singer’s dreams come true, and to make him proud of my life. I will also stand beside his beautiful partner while she grieves the loss of her love and support her well beyond this difficult time. I’m certain Claude wants to know Juyeon will be singing many Isoldes and always surrounded by love. I’ll do my best to ensure this happens.

“Tantrist” is with his Maker. Can you hear him singing now? Just imagining it brings joy.

His voice at its most glorious! Alleluia!

My sincere condolences to all of Claude’s family members, friends, and fans around the globe.
Peace be with you.

Zoila Muñoz

Claude Heater was an amazing man, a great teacher, and treasured friend!

I met Claude in 1995 at a Wagner concert in San Francisco. Marla Volovna and I went to hear one of his students who previously had vocal problems with high notes, who now sang beautifully after lessons with Claude. As we heard the amazing sounds from this singer, I said to Marla, “Mr. Heater should be your teacher,” and we approached him right away.

In Marla’s first lesson, I got very curious about the new technique Mr. Heater was teaching. I tried it myself and within a few months my voice improved. It was warmer and I was able to sing many high notes, B  flats and more, that I was not able to do before without getting hoarse. It was amazing! In a few months I learned the whole score of Il Trovatore and performed it with West Bay Opera four times in a row without getting tired at all - it was incredible. I worked with him for more than 10 years; he was my last teacher.

Claude was also very generous, eventually he did not charge us anymore. We used to travel 3 hours to his home for lessons.

At one time when I went to New York for auditions, he took me to shopping for clothes to make a good impression, buying a new outfit for me. That is how he was - generous, open, giving.

As I began teaching, I consulted Claude many times about my students. He had a wealth of knowledge, explained his technique so well. Thanks to Claude, I have helped many singers over the years. He would say “I am a muscle builder; not a teacher.” He was very positive and encouraging!

As a friend he was always warm and gracious to share lovely moments; always ready to have a deep conversation on many subjects, but especially about singing, singers, and his own experiences. He had a wealth of incredible moments in his career as one of the greatest Helden Tenors of his time!!

I will miss him dearly!!

Marla Volovna

 

Claude loved the art of singing, and he was so positive with his students due to this immense love. 

 

When Claude was teaching or singing he was happy, and the very best of him came out when he was making art. He made his students feel as if they could do anything. I was coming to the city from a 3 hour distance to study with Claude. I remember as I was leaving after a lesson, he ran out to the car and asked me if I wanted to stay for the rest of the week and have a lesson every day. Of course, I said yes, slept downstairs and had meals with Claude and amazing lessons that lasted sometimes up to 2 hours. I often stayed over during that time period. When it came to any aspect of singing there was no one more generous and kind with his students than Claude. He would  fly with some of his students in order to help them audition whether in the US or Europe and even would pay all the expenses of the student. I brought him a student of mine from CSU, Sacramento, and her husband, who was also  a singer. He took them into his house and gave them free lessons,  a home, and board for about 6 months to a year until they both auditioned for the San Jose Opera and  both got in only due to his efforts and the enormous positive change that occurred in their singing. He never asked anything in return. This is such a unique quality: to give without expecting or asking anything in return except the student’s hard work, and this is why his students loved him so much.

 

Even when I was making a singing career in Europe and studying in the top schools and later studying in Italy with world renowned teachers, these famous teachers never taught me how to use the diaphragm. Claude was the master of controlling the muscles, all the muscles of singing, especially the diaphragm, while keeping them flexible and it was he who taught me how to “support and connect” and so much more. 

 

Later, when I wanted to move to San Francisco but had no financial resources, he and Juyeon  allowed me to stay with them for almost a year. I have wonderful memories of this time!

 

Dear Claude, your students love you and will always remember you, your generosity, your great technique which you taught with such positivity being the amazing and kind teacher that you were. We thank you!

Thomas Truhitte

 

There was a time when driving to Claude’s home and stepping into Claude’s studio to work with him was an absolute highlight in my life. Claude not only was the first to really acknowledge, encourage and give me the "go ahead" that I should sing Wagner (which was the main reason why I wanted to be an opera singer) but show me a technique that would enable me to do so. My work with Claude allowed me to sing some of my greatest “dream roles” like Siegmund, Lohengrin, Parsifal and Tristan in some marvelous productions which in turn brought me some of my life’s richest, most fulfilling and deeply spiritual experiences when I felt the most alive and truly aligned with my life’s path and destiny. I admired and respected Claude very much, not only as an artist but also as a mentor and friend whom I will greatly miss. Vielen Dank Held and may we see each other again in Valhalla. - Thomas Truhitte

Curt Peters

 

I am very sad to hear of the passing of Claude Heater. I had the good fortune to have met him online discussing YouTube videos of Wagnerian operas. We shared a love of great singing and in particular, of Heldentenor singing. Of course, Claude was one of the greatest Heldentenors of his generation, having sung opposite the greatest dramatic sopranos of his time. I was lucky to have met Claude because he opened my eyes to many aspects of singing that I had never considered before. He was an extremely creative and inventive person who was attracted to excellence and had no interest in mediocrity. Claude impressed upon me the importance of real dramatic singing to modern opera - something that is so lacking today. I greatly admired his passion and deep knowledge of singing and opera and was humbled to have been able to spend time with him, learning from his masterful teaching and mentoring. His guidance and encouragement will reside within me for the rest of my life and I will be forever grateful to have been able to call Claude my friend. May he rest in peace.

Robert Ashens

 

I have rarely met a person of such strength of passion and commitment to both the Opera Art and of singing...truly fierce! I met Claude on his birthday because Juyeon called me (from someone's recommendation) to play for the party and accompany singers, students of Claude's, at a downtown hotel...in honor of his birthday. Juyeon & Claude's engagement was also announced that evening. Over several years, I've enjoyed their company, enjoying descriptions of sincere artful vocal pursuits....and one really wild spontaneous drive to Modesto! There was much life and joy in the connection. May his journey continue happily in the Universe!

Include this as you deem best and most appropriate. Blessings, ~Robert

S. Samuel Gelbart, M.D. June 3, 2020

I have known Claude Heater for slightly more than a year and, as it turned out, the last year of his remarkable life. It is for others, who knew him in his prime years, to recall and elaborate on the extensive list of accomplishments that this elegant man has achieved in his long singing and performing career. My knowledge of him comes entirely from several intimate and very colorful conversations with him and his protégé, Juyeon Song. These meetings were occasioned by his need of, and my attending to an eye problem that he had. Hippocrates understood that a physician treating a patient places both individuals in a unique and privileged relationship in which the physician must be the guardian of the patient’s best interest. With this keenly in mind, I would like to testify about the extraordinary character and equanimity of Claude Heater in his 92nd year. 

 

One does not get to be 90 years old in this world without being strong, I mean physically, but especially morally. This physical strength in Claude’s case was evident by his determination to come repeatedly for his appointments despite mobility issues and other age-related impediments. I was repeatedly impressed with his motivation to get healed and to resume the normal business of his life. When I early on asked him about his work career he modestly told me that he had been an opera singer. I mentioned to him that my brother was a choral singer and he immediately perked up and asked me if I had ever sung or performed. I laughed and lamented that my speaking voice was much more competent than my singing voice. He brushed that observation aside and told me that anyone could be trained to sing well and that it just took good guidance and plenty of practice. I asked him if he was still singing, even for his own enjoyment. He said no, but he said he was still capable. At that, I invited him to demonstrate. Well Claude obliged with a few short passages from some aria unfamiliar to me. His voice was sonorous, thunderous, and clearly articulated and took me by surprise. It was a moment when a person reveals his essence, sort of like that moment when you open a jewel box and see that shining diamond. 

 

Claude was poised and generous of spirit. He had amazing posture and presence that even a younger man would have envied. Yet he was soft-spoken and mild-mannered. His years of travel around the world and meeting countless people of influence did not seem to make him ostentatious or pompous. He was always a pleasure to speak with and his mind remained sharp. 

 

It’s an odd thing to say but Claude brought me pleasure each and every time I saw him. Despite his ailments and the difficulty we had bringing them to a point of stability he was a reminder about the elegance of a life well lived, and the determination to be the best one could be in this world. Rest in peace dear friend.

 

S. Samuel Gelbart, M.D. June 3, 2020

Geoffrey Di Giorgio

I am going to miss Claude Heater dearly. He was such a tremendous influence on my singing, and I am grateful I had the privilege of knowing him. Sitting in a room with him, was to sit amongst greatness. He was a throwback to another age of opera that no longer exists. The classical music world seems oft times cold and unkind, but Claude was the exact opposite; he was warm, fun-loving, generous, and personable. I don’t know where I would be today without his guidance and wisdom. He encouraged me to open up a Wagner score, study the music, and his foundation gave me opportunity after opportunity. And I was forever changed. 

 

My last conversation with Mr.Heater was in his home last spring; he told corny jokes, told me stories about the opera, and we talked about how to sing our very best. I am glad that this is how I will remember him: outrageously talented, yet humble and congenial. 

 

Thank you Claude for being you, I am going to miss you, kind sir; and I am grateful for your life. Remembering you in love. Your friend, Geoffrey. 

Dr. Perry

Claude was a force. It was a delight and a privilege to care for him, even though it was only for a short while. He challenged me to think hard and grow as a doctor, to learn more from my patients. His story didn't match up with what the textbooks say, and I still trying to understand him from a medical point of view. 

 

I am very sad about his sudden passing. It was always a treat to see his name on my schedule - it would brighten up my day. His life story was so incredible and his presence was enormous. I will miss the private concerts he gave when we had our visits - it was an honor to listen.

 

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Claude Heater Foundation's mission is to nurture, encourage, and support dramatic operatic voices, classical musicians, and artists through developmental, educational program and professional level performance opportunities.


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