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Jane Eaglen discusses her career as an opera performer

BROADCAST: Mar. 26, 1996 | DURATION: 00:34:13


Jan Eaglen, British soprano, discusses her career as an opera singer and trends in opera music.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel Listen to this passage from a review of Jane Eaglen, and her magnificent or brilliant Brunnhilde, part of -- one of the cycles of "The Ring," at The Lyric that's finishing its run. It says, now this is the local critic Wynne Delacoma, but pretty much echoes the "Trib," as well as the "Times," as well as critics in different parts of the world who've heard Jane Eaglen: "In terms of sheer vocal beauty and power, Eaglen was stunning. Excited opera-goers mentioned her in the same breath as such legendary Brunnhildes as Kirsten Flagstad and Birgit Nilsson during intermissions." The Lyric's "Gotterdammerung," ending the cycle. "The ovation for the cast and the orchestra grew stormier when Eaglen came out for a solo bow was overwhelming." The audience was slaphappy. Four nights of "The Ring." But here is the new, world's new great Brunnhilde. And, [laughter] you are Jane Eaglen. You're sitting here and of course you've been getting this for the last couple of years or so. So how it all began is what it's about. By the way, you are the only one -- our our opera aficionado here, Andy Karzas of the station says, not since Lilli Lehmann, which is a hundred years ago, about, you would want to go from Bellini to Wagner. Because your Norma is considered the Norma of our time, and your Donna Anna. And there's your Mozart and Wagner. So the span is incredible.

Jane Eaglen Yeah, I mean it's not what -- for some reason is considered to be the norm anymore. Although, certainly in the time of Lilli Lehmann, it was much more accepted to have a wide range of different types of repertoire. My feeling is that, everything should be sung bel canto, which which in Italian means beautiful singing. It's the kind of approach to singing which means that you never abuse the voice, basically. And for some reason Wagner has a reputation for always being thumped and sort of ruining voices, when it really should never be the case. I mean it's such incredibly beautiful music. I think it should be sung beautifully, and I get really angry when people say, well you know, it doesn't -- it's never gone that way. I say well it should be. [laughter]

Studs Terkel You see with you done th- somehow the association of bel canto singing and Wagner [laughter] is a thought hardly expressed, not in our time.

Jane Eaglen No that's that's absolutely true.

Studs Terkel But you think of power, strength, of the drama. But not the, as you put it, the beauty of the tone, and yet you sense that in Brunnhilde.

Jane Eaglen Absolutely. I mean I think there is no excuse in my opinion for singing anything, and not beautifully. Everything should be sung beautifully. I mean obviously within that you color the voice, you have certain dramatic effects to create. But the other thing about bel canto is that you never abuse the voice, so that you you never be singing Wagner badly, and never doing something with your voice that it doesn't want to do. I mean obviously you have to have the basic instrument that's right for the sound, because it -- you have to be able to sing over a big orchestra, it has to have the right sound that people want to hear in Wagner.

Studs Terkel You said never do something that you don't want to do or feel you want to really hit something right there like your approach. There's an intuitive approach as well, you're disciplined of course--

Jane Eaglen Mhm.

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] But there's intuitive, that is, you don't do anything that you feel is not natural for you.

Jane Eaglen No that's right, that's right. I mean I -- the intuitive thing is quite interesting because I've never really examined if I sing, for example, Norma and Brunnhilde differently, because you know I tend not to sing them at the same time. I mean I'm either doing Brunnhilde or I'm doing Norma whatever. But about 3 years ago I guess, I did audition for James Levine. I hadn't yet sung at the Met, he wanted to hear me. And he asked to hear some Brunnhilde and some Norma, so I sang them absolutely at the same time, you know, back to back. And it was interesting that although technically I didn't sing them any different, I do believe they sound slightly different in the voice, just because somehow you interpret the music differently. There's a different way of considering Wagner to Bellini, obviously. There has to be. And and although the voice works in the same way, it comes out I think slightly differently.

Studs Terkel Mhm. But since you mentioned Norma, you're considered, by just about every critic, considers you the Norma of our time, of this decade. And so, here's Bellini, and here's "Norma." And the most celebrated of all the arias of course is -- why don't you set the scene for "Casta Diva"? Why not set the scene, the plot there?

Jane Eaglen This is Norma's first entrance in the opera. She's a high priestess of a druid people, and she comes out to, on this festival day of the druids to sing this aria to the moon, the moon goddess.

Studs Terkel And it's peace-hoping. [unintelligible]

Jane Eaglen It's peace, it's hoping for peace, and it's, it's kind of invoking her people to be with her.

Studs Terkel Norma, "Casta Diva," and the Norma of our time, critics say. And of course, they're right. In the case of Jane Eaglen. And again the thing that is so astonishing is that span from Bellini to Wagner. We have no recording of you doing Brunnhilde, though yo- though you do do "Liebestod" "Tristan."

Jane Eaglen Yes, I I've recorded the "Liebestod," but my first solo CD for Sony, I have a contract with Sony to record exclusively for them, and my first solo CD is going to be Bellini and Wagner, just the 2--

Studs Terkel Oh, oh really it will be?

Jane Eaglen Composers, yeah. Yeah. Which I think will be out in the fall--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jane Eaglen But I just, because it's kind of the 2 composers I guess I've had the most success with--

Jane Eaglen Yeah.

Jane Eaglen And I do believe there's a link there, which I must say they didn't immediately see, but having talked to them I said, oh this is great you know we can put all this, and hopefully draw people's attention to the fact that there's a link.

Studs Terkel And we have to find out. And also by the way you're known for your Mozart, for you Donna Anna in "Giovanni." Your Tosca, your Turandot. Well come to that -- how you, you -- beginnings. Who is who is this phenomenon, Jane Eaglen? How can we -- you, you I know you come from, what you describe, that's interesting. An American singer never does that. Any American never does, say working class family. [laughter] We don't use that phrase. Everybody's middle class. Whether it's 10,000 a year or 100,000.

Jane Eaglen Right. [laughter]

Studs Terkel But you came from somewhere a 100 or so miles outside Manchester.

Jane Eaglen Yeah--

Studs Terkel A town--

Jane Eaglen A town called Lincoln.

Studs Terkel It was not a musical family.

Jane Eaglen Not at all.

Studs Terkel Well why don't you describe it.

Jane Eaglen Well, it was -- I have one older brother who's 17 years older than me so really I was kind of like an only child. He'd gone to university when I was--

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen Very young. And we were very close to the neighbors. I lived in a street of terraced houses, you know. I'm not not sure if American -- If you have a terraced houses the same, but it's like, just a row of houses with a passage between--

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen Two houses. And so the people across the passage were quite musical. The lady sang in the local amateur operatics and things. From about the age of probably 3 or 4 I used to just mess around on her piano, and she thought that I have some kind of musical ability and and told my mother--

Studs Terkel Wh--

Jane Eaglen And I had--

Studs Terkel What'd your parents do? Your father.

Jane Eaglen He worked in one of the foundries that built ship engines.

Studs Terkel He was a working man.

Jane Eaglen Yeah. He was a working man, yeah. He, he was sort of -- I mean he was a foreman there. He was--

Studs Terkel A foreman.

Jane Eaglen Yeah.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jane Eaglen Over a number of people, but basically they built, you know--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jane Eaglen The engines.

Studs Terkel So it's what you call a blue collar family here, to some extent.

Jane Eaglen Right. Right. Yes.

Studs Terkel But there was no -- so you just heard somebody from come across singing.

Jane Eaglen Yeah.

Studs Terkel Was there church singing?

Jane Eaglen Yes. I mean, she also this the same lady, sort of took me to Sunday school.

Studs Terkel Uh-huh.

Jane Eaglen I think to give my mother a rest [laughter] when I was about 3 years old. And it was a Methodist church and the Methodists really are into singing. It was great. So from being very young, I I sang at church in choirs and things, and started having piano lessons probably when I was 4 or 5. So I started off as a pianist, and wanted to be that for a long time--

Studs Terkel Oh, oh so a pianist originally.

Jane Eaglen Yes.

Studs Terkel Oh, when did the, when did the idea of you having a voice?

Jane Eaglen Well I'd always sung at school and at church to a certain extent, but it -- I mean, it sounds very kind of naïve now, but coming from such a family that had no history at all, I had never see an opera in my life, I knew nothing about it. It never occurred to me that there was such a thing as singing teachers, and you could kind of learn how to sing. You know I thought as I think people some sometimes still do that you can either sing or you can't, which of course is true, but you can learn how to sing better. And so after I'd done all my piano exams I was probably 16, and my piano teacher suggested that I had singing lessons during my final year at high school. And so that's sort of how it came about, and I'd always enjoyed being -- I mean, I enjoyed performing whether it was playing piano pieces, or doing the odd solo at church and so on singing-wise. And after about 2 lessons with a lady during my last year at high school, I suddenly thought this is just wonderful, you know, this is everything, this is music, this is performing. You could only kind of at that stage, I was 17, 16 probably--

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen You could only practice for like 15 minutes a day, which was fine by me because I hated practicing 5 hours of piano, it drove me crazy. So, so that was how it came about.

Studs Terkel So that's how it started. And then there was a teacher, a disciple of Benjamin Britten, Joseph Ward.

Jane Eaglen Yes, yes.

Studs Terkel And he played a role.

Studs Terkel He played a huge role and still does play a huge role, yes. I auditioned for the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, when I was 17. He was assistant head of--

Studs Terkel That was the music school there.

Jane Eaglen Yes. Yeah. Th- the best music school, really, for singers in England. And he heard me at 17, and must have heard something in my voice, because he decided he wanted to teach me. Having heard all the people who auditioned, he chose his own students, and thank God chose me among them. And so then I was 18 and off I went to start my course, and within 2 weeks -- I mean, this is [sort of] I've said this is before, within 2 weeks he said to me, you'll sing Brunnhilde and Norma one day.

Studs Terkel Oh, he said that?

Jane Eaglen He did.

Studs Terkel He said Brunnhilde and Norma.

Jane Eaglen He did. He absolutely did.

Jane Eaglen So he sensed something. What--

Jane Eaglen He did. He did. I have no idea how, because I really, to my recollection certainly had maybe 4 or 5 notes in my voice that gave any indication of how it sounds now, something just in the middle of the voice.

Studs Terkel He heard something in the middle of your voice, notes these -- [She? Gee?] this one-- [laughter]

Jane Eaglen Yeah, he must have.

Studs Terkel Jane Eaglen can sing can sing Bellini and Wagner.

Jane Eaglen Yes.

Studs Terkel Is it the -- Now we've come to that -- People have spoken what your seeming effortlessness, your effortlessness, and going into some pretty rough territory, [laughter] especially Brunnhilde, you know.

Jane Eaglen Well--

Studs Terkel And--

Jane Eaglen I mean that comes -- having started with him very young at 18 or so, meant that the kind of technique that I acquire became a kind of gradual thing. Which is, I always think with anything is the best way of doing it. I mean, I really didn't -- the top of my voice didn't settle down until I was like 28, which is, you know, only really a few years ago. And what he did was allowed it to happen in its own time, and because I trusted him so completely because he was never wrong, everything he said would happen has happened. So because I trusted him I was just quite happy to just wait. Which isn't always the case.

Studs Terkel We're talking to Jane Eaglen who's doing a -- by the time this is on, will have done and, oh I well, trust me back in Chicago of [unintelligible] doing more Wagner and perhaps "Norma," or or "Giovanni" [Don?], or any number of roles she chooses, who is -- needn't quote the critics you've probably read them all, but they speak of the blazing quality. The, the audience just going pretty wild. As much as they have for a long long time. And so, we have Jane Eaglen my guest, and her Brunnhilde is what talking about, but also her span, the all-encompassing aspect of her singing. And we'll come to her approach to some of the roles, as well, a dramatic approach, or character approach. And also by the way, since this conversation the day after the Academy Awards, 2 of the songs from "Sense and Sensibility," that won I think a cou- an award or 2--

Jane Eaglen Mhm.

Studs Terkel Are sung by you. Jane Eaglen, and triumphant as Brunnhilde, and [unintelligible] of other roles. So you sang -- how did this come about? The movie of Jane Austen novel that was adapted by Emma Thompson who's in it, have some of the songs that seem sort of Victorian songs [unintelligible] the time.

Jane Eaglen Right. Yes. I was asked to do it by Sony. They were sort of dealing with the musical side of it. And, as part of the film, not Emma Thompson the Kate Winslet character, sings and plays on the piano a couple of songs which were specially written for the movie, though they, as you say, they sound very much kind of Victorian songs. I mean they're beautiful. And so the idea was to have one of these songs orchestrated sung by me during the closing credits, and one of the other songs we also did, which is on the CD as well. So it was, it was really very interesting to do and it's lovely to be involved in something that's kind of different, you know, it's not something you get the opportunity to do very often. And you know, I met Emma Thompson at the session when we recorded it, which was really exciting, and she's a lovely woman and we became pretty good friends.

Studs Terkel "Weep you no more sad fountains." You want to read one of, one of the lyrics of s- of the [laughter] we say stanza. [laughter]

Jane Eaglen Oh, "weep you no more sad fountains; what need you flow so fast? Look how the snowy mountains heaven's sun doth gently waste. But my sun's heavenly eyes view not your weeping, that now lies sleeping. Softly, softly, now softly lies sleeping."

Studs Terkel By the way, when yo- I was thinking, Jane Eaglen, hearing this from "Sense and Sensibility," this song. Did you sing other son- when yo- before you became the operatic singer? Were there songs you sang?

Jane Eaglen A little bit, not hugely. I mean, even the teacher that I had when I was at high school thought -- she actually said to me that I could be a mezzo or dramatic soprano. If you're mezzo there's a million if you're dramatic there's none. [laughter] So I thought, well that's what I'll be, that will be fun. I did some, and I did a music festival I remember when I was about 17 and sang some English song. And the adjudica- I think I won first prize, and the adjudicator said, this is such an English-sounding voice this girl will never sing opera, you know, she's just made for English song. And at the time I thought, oh god I hope that's not true. [laughter]

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] One or 2 English songs, meaning what? Mean- meaning sort of Victorian?

Jane Eaglen Some Victorian stuff. And and they all, I think particularly probably Europeans, tend to have an idea of English singers as being kind of reserved. And English song which is folk songs, certain composers--

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen Who wrote in that sort of Victorian period and song as well, although it's tone of classic music, but still the English song type of thing is a very sort of specific type--

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen And always very reserved. And I think that's particularly as I say Europeans what they think of as English singers. When I first sang for Riccardo Muti for the "Norma" that we did together, he said well you're not English are you? And I said, well I'm yes, very. Well no, you must have some of [laughter] I mean, are you Scottish or Welsh?

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] you sing with a passion. For how could you--

Jane Eaglen I I -- I guess--

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah.

Jane Eaglen That's what he meant. I mean, or it's something that, I mean, I think I don't have a -- probably in my life in general I don't -- I'm not very inhibited--

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen I'm very sort of out-there person, and I think my singing's a bit out-there--

Studs Terkel Reflects that.

Jane Eaglen I think so. I mean, I think--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jane Eaglen I think one's singing has to reflect your personality, it has to.

Studs Terkel Well on that, on that theme that subject, your free-feeling. The uninhibited aspect of you, say, is somewhere along the line in one of the [unintelligible] but you follow your hunches, as well. Even though a distinguished teacher may tell you do it that way, you feel it's not right you don't do it.

Jane Eaglen Absolutely.

Studs Terkel You, oh, you had that experience?

Studs Terkel I I have a number of times. I mean I've done some master classes, with incredibly talented former singers. I did a master class with Tito Gobbi once, when I was very young. I mean I was like 21 or something. And I was singing some Aida, and I'd been working on it with my teacher and we knew the top wasn't right, but at least it was going the right way I wasn't doing anything damaging to myself. And I mean, Tito Gobbi's an incredibly talented man, an awful lot to offer. But he did say to me, well that top note's not right, you must push it, you must push the voice sing it as loud as you can. And I knew it was wrong. And I and I said, I don't know how I don't dared [anyway?] but I said I'm sorry I- I won't do that. [laughter]

Studs Terkel You--

Jane Eaglen And--

Studs Terkel Were 21 at the time.

Jane Eaglen I was 21 at the time.

Studs Terkel

Jane Eaglen To Tito Gobbi. [laughter] Yeah. And thinking about it [unintelligible] [deep breath] How could I have done that?

Studs Terkel What did he react? He--

Jane Eaglen Well he just said, oh okay well fine. I mean it wasn't particularly interested in working after that.

Studs Terkel But something, something in that suggestion he made, more of order I should -- is you knew it's wrong for you at that moment.

Jane Eaglen Well I -- yes. I mean as I say it's helped me enormously having had Joseph Ward teach me all along because I knew the way he's always been working and I trusted him. So it was some -- if anybody ever said anything to me that went against what he said, then I wouldn't do it--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jane Eaglen Because I believed in him.

Studs Terkel Well now the question of interpretation of roles. Somewhere along you said, you see there's a development here that, they speak of the powerhouse, a vengeful aspect of Brunnhilde in the "Gotterdammerung." As though she's making up for something, but at the -- you say she grows in it. Now, it begins in your mind, you see Brunnhilde, we think of the Brunnhilde the daughter of Wotan. You know, through the years as Birgit Nilsson and Flagstad and--

Jane Eaglen Yes.

Studs Terkel And down the line.

Jane Eaglen Yes.

Studs Terkel You, you see her a girl, a kid. 14, 15, something to start with.

Jane Eaglen Yes I I mean I certainly think--

Studs Terkel In "Valkyrie."

Jane Eaglen Sort of late teens in in "Valkyrie," yes, absolutely. And I think that the text, you know, kind of backs that up, really. I mean the first, the "Hojotoho," which -- probably the most famous part, in a way, of "The Ring," and certainly is -- kind of launches you on "The Ring," [laughter] certainly a way that people remember. But even in that, you know, she's having fun with Wotan, saying oh your wife's coming, oh she's going to be really cross and you're in big trouble, daddy, and all this sort of -- it's very playful, I think. I I think she's, she's an intelligent girl, and she's Wotan's favorite daughter because she has his, she has his intelligence and she has Erda's intuition. So she has a combination of everything. But she learns, and the whole of "Valkyrie" really is spent listening to the other characters, and learning from what she hears.

Studs Terkel Ah, you have her now we come to it. You see her as a young woman, you know, of a certain class. The god's, the big god's daughter, big shot's daughter.

Jane Eaglen Yeah.

Studs Terkel She's the big shot's daughter.

Jane Eaglen Yeah. Yeah. [laughter]

Studs Terkel And you got her learning.

Jane Eaglen Absolutely. I mean she learns from Wotan what the history of the ring, and the whole situation. He says to her, during his monologue, somewhere I have to find a hero who's going to get this ring back and save the world. And she says, oh you know, who on earth can that be? Not realizing of course that it's her. And I believe, when it comes to the immolation scene all those hours later, she realizes that what her father said was going to happen has happened. But it's through her.

Studs Terkel She's the hero.

Jane Eaglen She's th- yeah. She's the--

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah.

Jane Eaglen One who actually ultimately gives the ring back to the Rhine. And--

Studs Terkel Yeah, I mean, Siegfried or no Siegfried, she's the hero.

Jane Eaglen She is really, I mean--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jane Eaglen She's the one who makes everything that's been foretold happen.

Studs Terkel Yeah. Kind of a feminist approach, too.

Jane Eaglen Absolutely [laughter] absolutely. I mean, Wagner wrote for strong women.

Studs Terkel Oh really? That -- oh we'll have to come to that. [laughter] I I just --you just raised another [subject?] talking to Jane Eaglen, and, who's doing Brunnhilde in one one of the 3 cycles of "The Ring," has done it by the time of this broadcast. And we'll no doubt, if we're go- if we're lucky we'll see her in a few other roles before long, and repeats of various ones. But [unintelligible] your Norma, perhaps. Or, is there talk about that? About your returning and, and some other--

Jane Eaglen There's certainly plans for me to come back to Chicago, yes. I'm not sure I can say doing what--

Studs Terkel No.

Jane Eaglen Doing what, but--

Studs Terkel It may be that or it might be--

Jane Eaglen There's definitely plans to come back.

Studs Terkel Mozart, perhaps, or it could be anything--

Jane Eaglen Yes--

Studs Terkel Come back to the question of

Jane Eaglen your range. I think, I think some pretty interesting things. [laughter]

Studs Terkel [pause in recording] You like to

Jane Eaglen watch wrestling. I do, I love wrestling, yes. Watching it, not doing it.

Studs Terkel I mean watching it. [laughter] You see it as theater.

Jane Eaglen Oh definitely, [laughter] yeah, operatic theater at that. [laughter] It's you know it's kind of big-scale.

Studs Terkel Of course it is on a big scale--

Jane Eaglen Very much so.

Studs Terkel Because when they threaten, it's a big threat.

Jane Eaglen Oh it is.

Studs Terkel And they look fierce of course.

Jane Eaglen Yeah.

Studs Terkel And and they also are very theatrical. [laughter]

Jane Eaglen Very much so. I mean they they play characters.

Studs Terkel You see that?

Jane Eaglen Oh very absolutely.

Studs Terkel In fact some are fans. [laughter] One of them -- you were a fan of a guy named The Undertaker--

Jane Eaglen The Undertaker, yeah. [laughter]

Studs Terkel And you got a [card?] from him and his sidekick, The Pall- [not the?] The Pallbearer.

Jane Eaglen Pallbearer, yeah. [laughter] Yes, that was a great moment. [laughter]

Studs Terkel And so you ea- by the way, you've an you've an ea- easy approach to opera. It's there. It's your work, it's your art, it's your craft. But there's also another aspect to life. You like pop singing, too.

Jane Eaglen Yeah. I mean, I I guess I've kind of learned about myself that I give of my best as far as my work is concerned when I feel that I have sort of a life outside it. I mean, I love what I do with a passion and, you know, it means everything to me, but I do believe that I can give it my best concentration, my best work if I do other things.

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen You know, and and it's, whether it's watching wrestling, whether it's -- I I'm -- have a lot of time on the computers, I do all sorts of -- I play games on the computers, I'm on the Internet and all kinds of stuff. Seeing friends, just just lots of general things, going to movies, all sorts of things. And I think that it gives you a much more wide-ranging view of life.

Studs Terkel You see, [somehow?] as you say this, the word effortlessness comes to mind again. Your approach to the singing, practically all your coaches, this one guy saw Joseph Ward, as well as various critics, that it seems to be done -- you heard of Joe Lewis, the heavyweight champion--

Jane Eaglen Oh yes. [laughter]

Studs Terkel Of fighting. Well Joe Lewis was known for a seeming effortlessness. That is, he knocked out the guy every time, but he--

Jane Eaglen Right.

Studs Terkel Did it just enough to knock him out.

Jane Eaglen Right.

Studs Terkel You knew -- and the phrase was, I said about him that could be applied to you, "there's more where that came from."

Jane Eaglen Yes. I mean I think that, it certainly isn't effortless, but I think that part of my job is sort of to make it look that way, because I think the worst thing for an audience is to sit there and feel uncomfortable.

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] And by the way you just said something: it is not effortless. The audience sees it as effortlessness.

Jane Eaglen Mhm.

Studs Terkel But of course it involves tremendous discipline and training.

Jane Eaglen Well I read somewhere that the amount of energy expended in singing a major operatic role, is the same as someone who runs a marathon. And I can believe that, because p- particularly I feel I'm a very physical singer. I do use my whole body, what -- just with the actual act of singing. That's not including moving around, just singing. I use all my body.

Studs Terkel You said use your whole body. Do you know, I knew work with Mahalia Jackson, you heard of the spiritual singer?

Jane Eaglen Mhm, mhm.

Studs Terkel Yeah?

Jane Eaglen Yeah.

Studs Terkel Mahalia Jackson. Well Mahalia was demonstrating, in the fact that's the word she used: "when I sing I demonstrate." We think of demonstrations, gatherings--

Jane Eaglen Right. [laughter]

Studs Terkel For political reasons. She calls her performance demonstration, in that she takes off on opera singers, or she uses Lily Pons as an example--

Jane Eaglen Right.

Studs Terkel And she's very funny. She's a great mimic.

Jane Eaglen Mhm, mhm.

Studs Terkel She was a great mimic. And she would hold her hand in front of her, not move and sing, [unintelligible]. And the audience is roaring, because she starts this take off. She's -- "I can't do that. My whole body is involved."

Jane Eaglen Yeah.

Studs Terkel And so there's movement onstage. She's into the audience, and there's a shaking of the hands as you know--

Jane Eaglen Mhm.

Studs Terkel With the congregation--

Jane Eaglen Yes.

Studs Terkel Shaking it. But mostly it's move -- everything is at work, the voice but the rest of the body.

Jane Eaglen Yes--

Studs Terkel That makes her voice even more so.

Jane Eaglen Yes. I mean I don't do it by moving around necess- I mean I think the body -- it it's my instrument. So--

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen In a sense in order for my voice to be secure and steady, my body also has to be. So what I mean is, you know, for example if I'm going -- if I have a high note coming up or something, I feel it through my legs, I feel it going through--

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen The floor. My thighs are involved, you know, all the lower parts of my body, in a sense. And that's where the strength and tension comes, and then there's nothing on the vocal chords at all. That's all relaxed and happy and fine. [laughter]

Studs Terkel So a result is the total being in it.

Jane Eaglen Yes, I mean--

Studs Terkel The total being.

Jane Eaglen If I've ever done a performance when I'm perhaps a little bit tired, the only part of me that's tired at the end of it is my diaphragm, is my my muscles--

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen In the stomach and so on. That's the only part that I ever feel anything in.

Studs Terkel What wo- what would we hear -- because w- we'll try to hear as much of you singing as we can, in what is available right at the moment in record. So be the the record that'll Wagner and Bellini--

Jane Eaglen Yes.

Studs Terkel Forthcoming.

Jane Eaglen Yes.

Studs Terkel But, [why don't you?] go back to "Norma." And toward the end. You, you want to describe the scene, towards the end?

Jane Eaglen Well the very end of "Norma," which, in my opinion is probably the most beautiful music in the opera, which when you've been singing for 3 hours the strenuous music you have, it's it's kind of -- every time I do it I think how clever Bellini was, because the last thing he writes for her is so wonderful that you can even if you are tired you just have to give it all you've got. And it's when she's admitted that she's been the one who's been misbehaving, shall we say, with the Roman Proconsul and has 2 children. And she just realizes as she's about to go into the funeral pyre that her children need taking care of, and she's pleading with her father to do that.

Studs Terkel As we fade this very reluctantly, there's something you said that -- Jane Eaglen, in this aria, the number you're singing here in "Norma," toward the end. There's a Wagnerian touch, you saw a "Tristan" touch. Here's a connecting link. Why don't you pick up on that?

Jane Eaglen Yes. I mean, Wagner said of "Norma," particularly, that he thought it was a great piece. There are a number of quotes by Wagner about 2 I think--

Studs Terkel Oh, Wagner spoke of "Norma"?

Jane Eaglen Yes, very much so, yes. He thought it was a great piece. I mean, in terms, harmonically it is very kind of naïve, of course, compared to what the what the Wagner [laces?] harmonically. But he felt that it had, I think, a lot of heart, basically, and a lot of drama in it, which of course was something that he also developed hugely. And I just, I often feel that, when I've sung the "Liebestod," that he clearly had listened to the end of "Norma" when he wrote that. Somehow, it's it's the kind of rising phrases building to a climax and then kind of starting again. I mean it's a very -- there's obviously huge differences, but the basic building and then going back and starting again is the same in both, I think.

Studs Terkel So here's a connecting link. So this is also what Joseph Ward, your teacher, way back had in mind when he heard those middle notes, there.

Jane Eaglen I I guess so.

Studs Terkel Yeah. So there you -- and here you find -- but I had no idea that Wagner himself had commented on on on "Norma."

Jane Eaglen Yes. Oh he had. I mean that's why I put Wagner and Bellini together because there is a link, and there all things that Wagner has said about Bellini's work, which is interesting.

Studs Terkel We're talking to Jane Eaglen, and there's another big question I've got to ask her, coming back to the matter of the strength of the heroines she plays. [pause in recording] Earlier we said -- I say feminists would like your approach. [unintelligible] When you, when you saw, or you see Brunnhilde, really not simply a strong, young woman who is learning and becomes pretty sore about her fate of herself, with love, and all. But that she becomes the one who rescues and saves the ring, or mankind's soul or something like that.

Jane Eaglen Yes. I mean, I think it's -- she doesn't realize it necessarily at the time until -- I I think at the very end of "Gotterdammerung" she does realize, that it was -- sh- this was always what was going to happen. She was going to be the one who was actually going to put the world to rights, basically. But, I I mean I think she's an incredibly strong character, and the -- sort of working on "Gotterdammerung" for the first time, it was the first time I'd done the role, it was very interesting, to sort of -- various sort of aspects of how she would react to certain situations. And of course every Brunnhilde sees [him?] differently. Every great role has got any number of interpretations, obviously, it's why they're great roles. But I think it's important for me to find the interpretation that suits me.

Studs Terkel That suits you. Because someone else--

Jane Eaglen Because otherwise it's not true.

Studs Terkel Some other singer might interpret it differently.

Jane Eaglen Completely. Absolutely. But I mean, I I think I can only, do what feels right to me. And then it becomes real and true, as opposed to trying to kind of--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jane Eaglen Do an impression of another singer.

Studs Terkel Now Everding, August Everding was a guest on the program.

Jane Eaglen Right.

Studs Terkel He was the [stager?] -- of this. Now he works differently from Eva Marton than he does with you.

Jane Eaglen Yes. I mean I have to be honest, I didn't have very much rehearsal for the "Gotterdammerung" at all. But obviously I'd spent a lot of time thinking about it, and, you know, I mean Eva's a wonderful performer and she's very experienced in the role, but she does it how she sees it. And it would be wrong for me to try and do, in a sense an impression of another singer, because then it's doing nobody any favors.

Studs Terkel That's what he said by the way. He said, oh Jane Eaglen, [unintelligible]. Absolutely different.

Jane Eaglen Yes, yes.

Studs Terkel Different person.

Jane Eaglen Yes. Yes.

Studs Terkel And, and--

Jane Eaglen I think that's, I think that's that's very true. [page turning] And I think it -- I just have always found that it's very important for me to find, through the score, really. I always just read the score, go through the libretto, and see how I respond to something, and how I would--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jane Eaglen Respond to something. I mean, obviously an actor you have to draw upon certain experiences you've had yourself. And I think that's why I'm drawn to playing characters that are strong women because I think I'm strong. [laughter]

Studs Terkel And now we can think you're strong. [laughter] Now we come to the question.

Jane Eaglen I think.

Studs Terkel You could never do a little doll, you know the idea of a sweet, someone sweet and helpless. You couldn't possibly do that?

Jane Eaglen No, I mean physically, you know, I'm a big girl, and I'm--

Studs Terkel It's got to be a sh- I I'm thinking of the roles now. There's Norma.

Jane Eaglen Yes.

Studs Terkel Now, sure there's Bellini, and there and there's Wagner, musically, some would say worlds apart yet you show the connecting link. But not -- but the other one is the strength of the women: Brunnhilde, Norma, and then there's Tosca--

Jane Eaglen Yes.

Studs Terkel Turandot.

Jane Eaglen Yes. Donna Anna even--

Studs Terkel So all of them are strong.

Jane Eaglen Donna

Studs Terkel Anna is is-- Donna Anna's not too weak, either.

Jane Eaglen No, in certain. I mean, she's kind of a little bit, I mean, almost crazy, but--

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen But but she's not weak.

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen Her music isn't weak. I mean, I just find it quite difficult to be one of these heroines that takes poison from her ring because her boyfriend's left her, because I just would like never in--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jane Eaglen A million years do that. And I I'm not kind of simpering. [laughter]

Studs Terkel No.

Jane Eaglen And I -- it's hard for me to do that. That's not to say of course that there aren't, in all these roles, a softer side to them, of course. Th- I mean, it's -- to say that they're all strong women is true, but there are an awful lot more aspects to all these characters, I think. But I I find it important to sort of find like a hook, in a sense.

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen One thing that you can really relate to and really feel comfortable with, and then to put the rest of the characteristics, the emotions on that. So that it -- although Norma has the side with her children, the soft side, that comes through the fact--

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen That she leads these people that she's kind of, in charge of their welfare.

Studs Terkel Well she is a leader. And Turandot's a strong princess. Norma the leader of the druidic--

Jane Eaglen Yes.

Studs Terkel People.

Jane Eaglen Yeah.

Studs Terkel And of -- in battle. And yet she seeks peace.

Jane Eaglen Yes.

Studs Terkel And--

Jane Eaglen I think that difference about Brunnhilde in a sense is that, she has to deal with all the problems that beset her herself.

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Jane Eaglen She has to wonder how to cope with each situation that she's in. And it's her intelligence and her intuition, in a sense I think which does that, because she's a very strong character right from the word go. So that even when she dares in "Valkyrie" to say to Wotan, you don't really want me to to kill Siegmund, you don't really want that. You really love him. And and he's well that's true but we have to do this because Frica said so. The fact that she will answer him back, shows she has--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jane Eaglen A side of her.

Studs Terkel She answered him back just as you answered back Tito Gobbi.

Jane Eaglen I guess, yes. [laughter]

Studs Terkel [Either way?] see? You are made for these

Jane Eaglen roles. [laughter] Yes, I guess. I remember the time in "Gotterdammerung," and she thinks that she's been cheated and wronged by Siegfried. Then the absolute anger--

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah.

Jane Eaglen And vengeance which is also part of her character comes out. I mean whether I'm vengeful in real life, I wouldn't like to think. [laughter]

Studs Terkel I hope this will be the first of a number of conversations, encounters, and hearings as well as talking with--

Jane Eaglen I hope so too.

Studs Terkel Jane Eaglen, here. So because of the hour's running, and yet we have some of that song from "Sense and Sensibility." We'll close with that. This again who wrote th- who?

Jane Eaglen Patrick Doyle wrote the music.

Studs Terkel Right. But he wrote it in a Edwar- in a Victorian style.

Jane Eaglen Yes, the words, I think they're anonymous words--

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah.

Jane Eaglen But they're Victorian words, certainly.

Studs Terkel Yeah. And this is called "The Dreame."

Jane Eaglen "The Dreame."

Studs Terkel How does it -- you want to try -- have we got the lyrics here somewhere? Could you try reading?

Jane Eaglen [unintelligible] hear them--

Studs Terkel From here. I think it's in here somewhere. [laughter] We have the booklet for the movie "Sense and Sensibility." This is Jane and "The Dreame." At the bottom, there. Jane Eaglen. This by way of thanking you, very much for you.

Jane Eaglen Thank you. [laughter] It was a pleasure.

Studs Terkel Sign off with "The Dreame."

Jane Eaglen "Or scorn, or pity on me take, I must the true redemption make, I am undone tonight. Love in a subtle dream disguised, hath both my heart and me surprised, whom never yet he durst attempt awake."