October 25, 1927 - May 28, 2020
Claude Heater, the Bay Area native who became renowned as a heldentenor in European opera houses, passed away peacefully at age 92 after a prolonged battle with heart disease. Claude was a prominent opera singer, an inspiring teacher to developing opera artists, an actor, published author, candidate for congress, and co-founder and original benefactor of the Claude Heater Foundation. Born in Oakland, CA, Claude Heater grew up in a religious family and, at the age of 19, served as a missionary. His commitment and desire for truth set the stage for one of the world's greatest performers. Claude Heater is an enigma; his story and accomplishments are as compelling and revealing as any among the world's great singers. After U.S. Marine Corps service, Claude pursued a performing career. He moved to New York City, and made his Broadway debut in "Top Banana" with Phil Silvers, followed by a role in Leonard Bernstein's "Trouble in Tahiti," and an appearance on Arthur Godfrey's "Talent Scouts," winning the top prize. After singing with the Amato Opera in NYC in 1952, he moved to Italy to continue vocal studies, and began performing baritone roles on the great opera stages of Europe. He sang and collaborated with the great talents of the era: including singers Montserrat Caballé, Birgit Nilsson, Gwyneth Jones; and conductor Herbert Von Karajan.
Briefly stepping away from opera, Claude appeared in the uncredited role of Jesus Christ in the 1959 classic film "Ben-Hur." During the filming, Claude shared a key scene with Charlton Heston and their interactions provided inspiration for the rest of Claude's professional life.
Claude's final performances as a baritone were in 1961 with the San Francisco Opera. He then retrained his voice as a tenor and found great success in the Dramatic/Wagnerian tenor repertoire at major theatres internationally. Tristan in "Tristan und Isolde" is one of his signature roles, which he sang in eight different productions in two years. He performed the opera at the ultimate Wagner venue, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, and in 1967-8 made two "Tristan und Isolde" films for Belgium TV.
After retiring from the stage in the 1970s, Claude devoted his time to developing dramatic voices from scratch in his San Francisco studio over 30 years. His students are full of stories of how Claude changed their lives, and how kind and generous he was. He also served as the General Director of the Oakland Opera of California during the 1988-1990 seasons. In 1992, Claude ran a write-in campaign for Congress that unfortunately was unsuccessful. At the time, Claude admitted the campaign was a long-shot, but was another avenue for him to connect with the public and give back. Claude's thoughtful mind and soul reflected on what he felt were inconsistencies with his Mormon experience, which he articulated in a book he wrote and published in 2007 called "Fatal Flaws of the Most Correct Book on Earth."
In 2018, Claude co-founded the Claude Heater Foundation (CHF), with his life-partner, Juyeon Song. The creation of CHF was the fulfillment of an idea and dream he had for many decades. With Claude initially as its sole benefactor, the organization launched its mission to nurture, encourage, and support dramatic operatic voices, classical musicians, and artists through developmental, educational programs and professional level performance opportunities. The organization saw great early successes with performances of "Tristan und Isolde" in San Francisco in 2018, and in Poland in 2019; the latter was also recorded and due for commercial release, and also submitted as consideration for GRAMMY Awards. Since the CHF 2019 performance of "Nabucco," future planned events have been postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Claude is survived by his longtime partner, Juyeon Song, his children, Claudia Kruber, Michele Sturtevant, Erika Ramlan, Steven Heater, Christian Heater, Evelyn Heater, grandchildren Nicolas Kruber, Alexander Sturtevant, Lauren Ramlan, Joshua Ramlan, Cecilia Heater, Zachary Street, and Valentina Heater; and great grandchildren Fiamma Maria Sarcì and Priscilla Sarcì. He was preceded in death by his son Mark Heater.
Services for Claude Heater will be private. In lieu of flowers, Claude's family is requesting donations please be made in his memory to the Claude Heater Foundation at claudeheaterfoundation.org/donate
. The non-profit will carry on the work that he started, and will remain an enduring element of his legacy.