“South African soprano Elza van den Heever, best known locally for her stints as Elisabetta in the Met’s Maria Stuarda, here sang her first Leonore. The voice was heroically scaled; the top enormous. She articulated the awkward passagework in “Abscheulischer!” with a dauntlessness that attested not only to her solid technique, but also informed the character herself.”
Fred Cohn, Opera News
“South African soprano Elza van den Heever has long had a ‘date’ with Beethoven’s Leonore, in his only completed opera FIDELIO. It wasn’t exactly a blind date–she has known for years that, eventually, she would take it on, she told me–but it was a roaring success in her role debut, at the Venetian Theatre at the Caramoor Festival, under Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.
Taking on a role for the first time in public is surely a daunting challenge for a singer. Yet, van den Heever pulled it off with finesse, her burnished voice, flexibility and fine acting providing a fine look at this woman driven to save her spouse. Her “Abscheulicher!“–revealing the depth of her devotion to Florestan–was a stellar achievement and her later scene with him in their wonderful duet, “O namelose Freude,” was incredibly moving …”
Richard Sasanow, Broadway World
“I had heard van den Heever, Groves, Sigmundsson and Jarman in other roles and always with great pleasure. In particular, van den Heever caught my eye and ear as a young artist (she still is quite young) because she is a superb singer and actress. Her memorable 2012 Met debut (captured on DVD) was as Queen Elizabeth I opposite Joyce DiDonato in the title role of Maria Stuarda. Van den Heever famously shaved her head and wore wigs, making her feel closer to the way the formidable monarch might have felt. She later was a powerful Donna Anna at the Met, and we will hear her as Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo when that opera is scheduled to be revived in March 2017 with James Levine conducting.
While van den Heever — who is from South Africa but lives in France and did much of her training in the United States — showed early on her abilities in romantic dramatic repertory (Wagner, Weber, some Verdi), Leonore is still an audacious step. Arias such as “Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?”, with some of the most treacherous passages in opera, have challenged the likes of Birgit Nilsson and Hildegard Behrens. And yet van den Heever sang it at Caramoor with seeming ease, making beautiful sounds where even the most accomplished singers have sounded labored. The audience recognized how rare this was and gave her a huge ovation.”
Fred Plotkin, WQXR Operavore
“While this performance was cast to perfection from top to bottom, the success of Sunday’s presentation was due in no small part to the incredible Leonore of Elza van den Heever, her first performance of the part. Statuesque and wielding a sizeable, gleaming voice, van den Heever, known primarily to New York audiences for her performances of Elisabetta in Maria Stuarda and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, commanded the stage from her first entrance. In Beethoven’s majestic, sometimes-bombastic music, she never feared to play with dynamics and spun layered meaning out of every word of Joseph Sonnenleiter‘s libretto. Her portrayal delivered majorly in both vocal power and restraint and was elevated by sensitive acting in this semi-staged presentation. And the b-flat when she exclaims, “Tödte erst sein Weib!” (“I am his wife!”), revealing her true identity to her husband and the prison guards, was full-throated, spot-on, and one of the most thrilling moments I’ve experienced at the opera.”
Opera Teen, The Huffington Post
“Beethoven requires much from his soprano, with extended passages of ornamentation, often written for the single syllable of a word. Elza van den Heever brought her formidable and agile instrument to the part, leaping through the difficult passages of the “Abscheulicher!” monologue and aria including the torturous fioratura writing above the stave. She became the focal point of the action from the moment she stepped onstage, capturing the character’s outer deception and inner distress. In Act II, her confrontation with the evil Don Pizarro brought white-knuckle excitement.”
“… Fidelio which was especially memorable for South African soprano Elza van den Heever’s thrilling first-ever Leonore … van den Heever, whose wide-ranging and plush dark soprano rang out sensationally … Hers was an intriguingly introverted Leonore, one who even in a semi-staged performance rarely gestured keeping her riveting intensity very inward.
Often one perceives a Leonore cautiously husbanding her energies until after “Abscheulicher,” but not the bold van den Heever—she easily soared over the quartet and the oft-derided but delicious trio with Rocco and Marzelline. Her fierce, nervous duets with Rocco demonstrated a touching chemistry with Sigmundsson. For me the ultimate test of a Leonore is her triumphant cry of “Töt erst sein Weib!” in the dungeon scene and van den Heever’s B-flat sailed out splendidly momentarily quelling the chaos … it was exceptionally gratifying to witness deeper, more complex aspects of her artistry. Her Elettra in Idomeneo at the Met next season immediately becomes a must-see …”
Christopher Corwin, Parterre
“Elza van den Heever Shows What the Voice Can Do … While the cast was superb throughout, Elza Van Den Heever shone, even shocked, as Lenore … All attention is on her superb acting and particularly the voice. It floats totally supported by the breath. Huge and resounding, it seems effortless to produce, although perfection often does sound deceptively simple. Not only did Van Den Heever put on a singularly detailed and satisfying performance, she also acted generously with all her partners, particularly Paul Groves. Their duet which combines reconciliation and escape was very personal and intimate …”
Susan Hall, Berkshire Fine Arts