Seattle Opera's general director, Speight Jenkins, tells the story of JANE EAGLEN's debut with the company: Two weeks before SO's January 1994 production of Bellini's Norma was to open, soprano Carol Vaness pulled out of the title role, one of the most notoriously difficult roles in the repertory. "Normas do not grow on trees," Jenkins quips, but a trusted colleague suggested Eaglen, then an up-and-comer with the English National Opera, as a replacement. But his worries weren't quite over: "When she arrived, all was fine, but it was just two days before the Christmas break. She came back to Seattle on Dec. 27 with a horrible cold. . . . She literally was unable to sing at all in any rehearsal between then and opening night. The day before we opened, she said she was feeling better and might do it. She asked to come to the rehearsal hall and try out her voice. I didn't have the nerve to hear her but went upstairs to my office. I came down 30 minutes later, and she said, 'It's not perfect, but I'll give it a go.' So, as I told the audience before the premiere, I, like them, was hearing her sing the role for the first time. The rest is history."
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Twelve years later, Eaglen's one of the busiest and most praised sopranos in the world—especially in Wagner: She practically owns the roles of Isolde and Brünnhilde, and sings them everywhere. No one else combines Italianate lyrical flexibility (Wagner himself always emphasized the Italian influences in his own vocal writing) with effortlessly projecting tonal power quite like Eaglen. (Since her bio leaks it, so will I: She's slated to sing Senta in Wagner's Flying Dutchman for Seattle Opera in the summer of 2007.) Her appearances here have seen her intensify as an actress, investing her high-flying roles with increasingly assured emotional force—and a flair for comedy, as seen in her last SO role as Rosalinde in Strauss' Die Fledermaus. She's decided to make Seattle home base for her international career, marrying and settling here. "Seattle has quickly become home for me," she says. "I love the water and the mountains, the relaxed way of life here, and the wonderful people." Eaglen's not just a diva, she's our diva.—Gavin Borchert
Jane Eaglen's Picks:
Best Restaurant: Nell's on Green Lake. "There is always something new and interesting on the menu. The tasting menu is also excellent when you can't decide which of the wonderful things to try," says Eaglen. Other faves: Canlis, Wallingford Pizza House, and Tutta Bella.
Best Coffeehouse: "I love Caffe Ladro on Lower Queen Anne for coffee and a chat," she says.
Best Theater: Seven Gables in the U District. Eaglen likes the old projectors in the entrance and "the comfy seats!"
Best Stadium: Even divas like a good pitching duel. Eaglen says, "I have become a total Mariners fan since moving here, and love Safeco Field. It's such a beautiful place for baseball, all the seats are great, the food selection is amazing, and the atmosphere—especially when we are winning—is quite unique."
Best Natural Attractions: "The areas around Seattle are so gorgeous, and my husband and I have had some great days out on Whidbey Island, Mount Rainier, and recently a trip to Mount Shuksan, which was so beautiful. I consider myself very lucky indeed to have been able to count Seattle as my adoptive home."