Jane Eaglen

Master Class with Jane Eaglen 2010

Jane-Eaglen * Program *
"Sorge infausta una procella" from Orlando
Sidney Outlaw, baritone and David Hanlon, piano

"Ces lettres" from Werther
Robin Flynn, mezzo-soprano and Natalia Katyukova, piano

"Il lacerato spirito" from Simon Boccanegra
Kevin Thompson, bass and Michael Spassov, piano

"In fernem Land" from Lohengrin
Kevin Ray, tenor and David Hanlon, piano

"Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém" from Rusalka
Janai Brugger-Orman, soprano and Michael Spassov, piano

* Notes *
Jane Eaglen gave a master class for the Merola Opera Program last night at Herbst Theatre. The evening included a diverse repertoire as well as many different voice types. Sidney Outlaw started off with Zoroastro's Act III aria from Orlando. Eaglen noticed that the aria started a bit low for Outlaw, and questioned him about the ornamentation, which he had written that afternoon. She suggested lifting the breath and got Outlaw to sound brighter, more open, and less like he was singing Monteverdi. Robin Flynn sang Massenet next, her voice is has a pure, light quality. Eaglen teased Flynn about being an athlete, as the latter recently did an Alcatraz swim and plans to run the San Francisco Marathon. Natalia Katyukova played "Ces lettres" beautifully, perhaps with a touch more extravagance than strictly necessary. Bass Kevin Thompson sang Fiesco's romanza "Il lacerato spirito," as he did at the Auditions for the General Director, but this performance was more vivid. Eaglen praised the great resonance and colors of Thompson's voice, and asked him to place the breath higher so he did not have to reach for the higher notes.

Kevin Ray sang Lohengrin's Narration in Act III with the music, as the piece is new to him. There was a good deal of tension in the voice and one could hear his breathing distinctly. Eaglen got him to relax, and told him that "mushy was good." Ray was able to sing more legato and with less strain. The performance ended with Janai Brugger-Orman, singing the gorgeous "Song to the Moon." Her voice is both sweet and icy. When Eaglen had her relax the jaw and use more control, Brugger-Orman sounded more fluid.

* Tattling *
Jane Eaglen is charmingly self-effacing, and joked that it was obvious she did marathons just like Ms. Flynn. She also mentioned that the key to high notes was in squeezing the bottom, and since she had a big bottom, she had big high notes.

Amelia at Seattle Opera

Kate Lindsey (Amelia) and William Burden (Dodge). © Rozarii Lynch photo * Notes *
The world premiere of Daron Aric Hagen's Amelia had a promising opening at Seattle Opera last night. The production, directed by Stephen Wadsworth and designed by Thomas Lynch, is both smart and tasteful. Some of the scene changes were rather noisy, and this was particularly unfortunate as it interrupted the music.

Wadsworth's story came together in the libretto, written by poet Gardner McFall. The text did not display the awkwardness that marks many contemporary operas. The words fit the music, and the deft overlapping of narratives condensed the plot without being confusing or tedious. Layering of the Icarus myth and the life of Amelia Earhart with the main story line worked surprisingly well. There were a few moments that were ungainly, and it might have been better to be shown rather than to be told, given that this was an opera.

The orchestra, conducted by Gerard Schwarz, sounded lively. The brass sounded clear in Act I, but perhaps had more trouble with the second half. The cello sounded brilliant, especially at the beginning of Act I Scene 2. Hagen's orchestration could be overgrown, and at times it was somewhat difficult to hear certain arias. However, the use of silence was effective and compelling. There was quite a lot of singing as an ensemble, and the voices were handled astutely. The a cappella section at the end was striking.

The singing was all quite lovely. Museop Kim, David Won, and Karen Vuong were convincing in their duel roles as North Vietnamese villagers and American hospital staff. The voices of Nicholas Coppolo (Icarus/Young Boy) and Jordan Bisch (Daedalus/Young Boy's Father) were evocative and blended nicely together. As the young Amelia, Ashley Emerson was eerily child-like. Her voice was very pretty, flexible, and youthful.

Jane Eaglen fit the role of Amelia's Aunt Helen perfectly, and produced a full sound without overwhelming the others. Jennifer Zetlan cut a cunning figure as the Flier, the way she sat on the hospital bed with utter aplomb as Amelia is whisked off was strangely delightful. Zetlan's voice was piercing, a good foil for Eaglen. Nathan Gunn was fine as Paul, the husband of Amelia, as was Luretta Bybee as Amanda, her mother. William Burden (Dodge) sounded warm and sweet, and could be heart-rending. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey impressed in the title role with her clear, bright voice.

* Tattling * 
There was some light talking during the music. A cellular phone rang during Act II as William Burden sang.

This was the first time in many years that I was not in standing room for Seattle Opera, and my press contact for Amelia made sure I was sent to the box office for a seat upgrade. I was right in front of the composer himself on the orchestra level.

Seattle Opera's 2009-2010 Season

October 17-31 2009: La Traviata
January 16-30 2010: Il Trovatore
February 27- March 13 2010: Falstaff
May 8-22 2010: Amelia

Only four operas next season for Seattle Opera, as the Ring Cycle also to be presented this summer. The La Traviata is from San Francisco Opera, and will star Nuccia Focile and Eglise Gutiérrez sharing the role of Violetta. Gordon Hawkins will be Count di Luna in Il Trovatore. Stephanie Blythe sings Dame Quickly in Falstaff. The world premiere of Daron Aric Hagen's Amelia will include William Burden, Nathan Gunn, and Jane Eaglen.

Press Release [PDF] | Official Site

Der Fliegende Holländer at Seattle Opera

Jane Eaglen and Greer Grimsley, photo by Rozarii Lynch* Notes *
Stephen Wadsworth's 1989 production Der Fliegende Holländer revived at Seattle Opera from August 4-25, 2007, and I caught the fifth and sixth performances on a weekend jaunt to the Emerald City. Thomas Lynch's sets are meant to be 19th century, but the costumes looked like contemporary street clothing. The singing was mediocre. The steersman, Jason Collins, had poor diction. Daniel Sumegi was quiet in the role of Daland. Greer Grimsley was an impassive Dutchman, one could hear him but he just did not seem terribly engaged. Jane Eaglen (Senta) was least unpleasant, her voice is full but not overpowering. Her acting was terrible, she is especially unsuited for the role of a young, sweet girl as she can barely move. The choreography as a whole was boring, the singers mostly just stood around. I did enjoy hearing the chorus and the orchestra played well under the direction of Asher Fisch.

* Tattling *
The production was drawn out from having two intermissions, perhaps this was for the scene changes as the sets were not simple. Often times this opera is given with no intermission at all, so it is a bit strange that Wadsworth/Lynch decided to make one of Wagner's shorter operas longer.

The audience was the worst-behaved that I have observed at a Wagner opera in Seattle. There was talking, beeping, and the like. They kept clapping for the sets. Worst though was the Act II set, which emitted a high pitched noise. Perhaps the lights were to blame, but it was almost unbearable the second time around.

Der Ring des Nibelungen at Seattle Opera

RheingoldSeattle Opera is especially dedicated to the works of Richard Wagner. The founder of this opera company, Glynn Ross, apparently adored Wagner at a time in which his works were generally neglected by most American opera houses. Seattle Opera has built its reputation on staging Wagner in a traditional manner, a reaction to the ultra-minimalism of Bayreuth. From 1975 to 1983 they gave Der Ring des Nibelungen every summer, in both English and German versions. This month Seattle Opera is staging their third production of Der Ring for the second time. Glynn Ross' ambitions certainly have been fulfilled, as these performances were sold-out a year in advance, even the waiting list had to be closed 8 months before the cycle began.

Stephen Wadsworth's production has a particular emphasis on nature, many of Thomas Lynch's sets are covered in greenery. The most evident motif throughout were human coverings: the robes of Wotan and Siegmund were especially prominent, the former used as Brünnhilde's pillow, the latter dragged all about by Siegmund, Sieglinde, and Siegfried.

Das Rheingold
The audience was rather delighted with the acrobatic Rheintöchter, they were suspended from the ceiling and did all sorts of flips and dives. They were still able to sing quite well despite the athleticism required, good thing they were forced to be on some sort of cardio/yoga/pilates regimen beforehand. I was a bit confused by the staging though, it leaves Alberich on the bottom of the Rhein, since he is on the stage and they are above him.

They cast people well, Richard Paul Fink and Thomas Harper were suitably small as Alberich and Mime respectively, and Fasolt and Fafner, Stephen Milling and Gidon Saks, were convincing giants.

The weakest scene of the opera, and possibly the whole cycle, was the third scene in when Wotan and Loge go to Nibelheim and trick Alberich into changing into first a giant snake and then a toad. Both simply looked like children's toys, and the snake was not impressively larger than the toad. This received an audible giggle from the audience.

The singing was fairly even. Compared to the Bayerische Staatsoper Ring production of 2003, the only singer that was less impressive was Greer Grimsley, because John Tomlinson was an amazing Wotan. Grimsley was slightly quiet, but consistent. Tomlinson was fuller and more brilliant, but he was also singing with a poorer cast, so it could be simply the contrast. The most exciting vocals came from Ewa Podleś in her tiny role as Erda. As she rose from the earth her enormous voice seemed a force of nature.

Die Walküre
Everyone seemed to adore Margaret Jane Wray and Richard Berkeley-Steele as the Wälsungen, but I found Stephen Milling's voice most compelling in his role as Hunding, though he did not make a particular impression on me as Fasolt in the earlier opera. His voice had a certain command, it is very solid. Jane Eaglen was at her best as Brünnhilde, her high range never grates nor threatens to break glass, her low range is quiet.

The set for Act III (Auf dem Gipfel eines Felsenberges) where we find the Walküre left something to be desired. It looked too clean and neat, as if one had bought it from IKEA. It reminded me of the set for Seattle's Lohengrin, similarly flat and linear. Thomas Lynch designed both, no surprise there at all.

Also, the Walküre threw around the various body parts of fallen heroes during that first scene. For some reason, this struck me as slightly tacky, something out of a horror movie. Another trivial point, it might have been nicer if the rest of the Walküre had been a little more substantial physically, since Jane Eaglen may well be around 300 pounds. This visual contrast was slightly bizarre.

The most notable flaw in this performance was having the singers be percussionists. One would never force the singer of Siegfried to play the famous horn call, why should a singer then, be forced to be a percussionist? Thomas Harper (Mime) was more confident of his playing, but still was off at times, and Alan Woodrow's playing was just painful to watch, and more importantly, hear. It was too bad, since he made a nice enough Siegfried otherwise, singing adequate, and his acting was charming. He does petulant and boyish well. They also pulled off the bear part at Siegfried's first entrance, the bear suit donned by tenor Steven Goldstein.

Surprisingly, the Act II scenes with Fafner as a dragon were also done well. The puppet was suitably grand. However, the Waldvogel part came off less well. A stuffed bird was illuminated in the trees, but it was very difficult to see. Wendy Hill's voice sounded very pleasing, and it might have been better if we could have heard her from the stage.

Act III Scene 1 was definitely the best part because of Podleś. The Act III love scene was slightly painful, Eaglen waddles, and when she spun around in delight at Siegfried, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

The beginning Norn scene was impressive, Podleś and Stephanie Blythe have such big voices, Wray is full but not as hefty. Gidon Saks (Hagen) was ill and his voice was quiet and strained. Woodrow's singing in Act III Scene 2 as Siegfried dying was especially good, not flawless, but very beautiful. Eaglen put everything she had into the Immolation scene, it was transcendent, her voice gleaming.

As for the staging and set, the Halle der Gibichungen was very dull, it was in no danger of being a distraction. Act III Scene 1 with the Rheintöchter down from their harnesses was charming, though the arm choreography didn't much make sense, it looked like they were flapping. The last scene was utter madness, the scrim came down with fire projected on it, the gods all reappeared on a platform, and the Rheintöchter reappeared to catch the ring that Brünnhilde throws up into the air. Somehow this all came together.

Overall, it certainly was ambitious. Robert Spano did not seem to have any exquisite control over the orchestra, nor was his conducting particularly fiery. The traditionalist approach to the stage direction makes it obvious how difficult it is to stage something so fantastical without being kitschy. One begins to understand why all those bizarre contemporary stagings exist, they are a sort of distraction.


LohengrinseattleStephen Wadsworth's production of Lohengrin at Seattle Opera was dull. The set, designed by Thomas Lynch, was angular and somewhat tawdry. The worst part was definitely the end, when the swan appeared. It was this over-sized robot, reminiscent of a Disneyland character. The best part may have been soprano Jane Eaglen, who is certainly more suited for Ortrud than for Turandot or Ariadne.


AriadneseattleLast March I saw Seattle Opera's production of Ariadne auf Naxos. Dahlstrom's set was depressing, especially the prologue which looked like we were behind the scenes in the McCaw Hall itself. I hope Jane Eaglen has a nicer changing room though, not one marked by a blue circle and white icon that characterizes a women's bathroom sign. Director Chris Alexander wanted to update the opera to the present time, but I'm not sure that this made the opera any more accessible. The whole production lacked charm and warmth, even with the absurd fireworks ending. Jane Eaglen as the Prima Donna/Ariadne was impressive, but she does make everyone else sound bad in comparison.

Perché un dì nella reggia m'hai sorriso.

Opening night of the opera is splendid event. Everyone dresses up in a most lavish manner, and there are flowers everywhere. This year red roses decorated the boxes and filled enormous vases in the halls. I spent a half hour before the performance and both the intermissions simply gaping and tittering at all the splendid gowns and so forth. I particularly liked a muted gold gown that resembled an egg carton, but more pointy. I laughed every time the lady who wore it came within my view, which probably was extremely rude, but I really could not help myself.

Turandot is not my favorite opera, and Puccini is not my favorite composer of operas. For one thing, Puccini's overtures are incredibly quick affairs that only confuse me, and Turandot's were no exception. The set design and costume design of this production was absolutely lurid, perhaps because of the oriental aspect of the setting. The backgrounds that were meant to look faux Chinese were very flat and not unlike paper cut-outs. Everything was very red and green and pink. There were absurd death heads hanging from rafters above in the first act that were a special annoyance to me for some reason.

Nonetheless, the singing was very good. Jane Eaglen (Turandot), Patricia Racette (Liù), and Jon Villars (Calaf) all had gorgeous voices. I found the music for Ping, Pang, and Pong rather adorable, and Hernan Iturralde, Jonathan Boyd, and Felipe Rojas did a fine job with the choreography, acting, and singing. They had a good dynamic together.

The libretto is full of holes. In this production Turandot intially looked quite joyed by Calaf's correct answer to her last riddle, and then frightened and enraged only later, which seems like an attempt to make her change of heart in the end more plausible.

I liked the acrobats. This was something that simply thrilled my blood.