No matter how closely you listen, how intently you scrutinize, it's nearly impossible to hear any roughness in Jane Eaglen's singing. Each note comes out in full bloom, with a glistening purity. That tone, and her clarion projection (her ringing, orchestra-subduing high notes sound even more effortless than her midrange ones) are her chief claims to the title of Greatest Living Wagner Soprano.
Last Saturday's concert with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony was a fundraiser for Seattle Opera's 2001 production of Wagner's Ring, and Eaglen chose an all-Wagner program identical to the one Kirsten Flagstad (the Greatest Living Wagner Soprano during the '40s and '50s) sang for her farewell concert in 1955. She offered two of Sieglinde's arias from Act 1 of Die Walkre, the Wesendonck Lieder, the "Liebestod" (with the orchestral Prelude) from Tristan und Isolde, and Brnnhilde's immolation scene from the end of G�rd䭭erung (Eaglen just sang Brnnhilde for San Francisco Opera's Ring in June, and will here in 2001). Plus, there were two encores (Eaglen's vocal stamina is simply unbelievable): "Dich, teure Halle" from Tannh䵳er and another brief scene, the "Ride of the Valkyries," from Die Walkre.
Triumphant as the evening was—and it was decidedly a tell-your-grandchildren kind of event—I have one reservation that keeps me from being a true Eaglen worshipper. Her phrasing tends to have a squarish, proclamatory cast, perfectly and dramatically appropriate for moments like Sieglinde's narrative scene "Schl䦳t du, Gast." But to listen to her "Liebestod," you wouldn't necessarily guess that she was hallucinating or reminiscing, as the text suggests, or singing purple metaphysical lines like "Am I to breathe, am I to listen?/Am I to sip them, plunge beneath them?/Expire sweetly in their scent?" Her delivery soars, but it doesn't cause me to melt or swoon.
From Schwarz and the orchestra alone came an explosively brilliant Flying Dutchman overture, the "Good Friday Spell" from Parsifal, and the epic "Siegfried's Rhine Journey" sequence from G�rd䭭erung. It had been only two months since I last heard them in Benaroya, but I had forgotten a bit just what intoxicating sonic splendor the orchestra and the hall are capable of. Wagner is one of Schwarz's specialties as well, and one of his particular strengths was exactly ideal for the Tristan Prelude: the temporal push-pull he can achieve with instrumental lines, each moment lingering exquisitely but the whole surging forward. It's what the Prelude, encapsulating the love-drama to come, is all about—each phrase searching for, yearning for, and not quite reaching resolution.