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A Diva for Digital Age

Soprano Jane Eaglen Connects to More Than Opera

March 15, 2001

Jane Eaglen has all the talent of a true opera diva, but seemingly none of the attitude. The English-born soprano, whose star has been steadily rising as one of the great Wagnerian singers of her time, loves to laugh, go to amusement parks and sing along with Bon Jovi CDs.

She also has latched onto the Internet as a way to stay in touch with family and friends while touring, which she does a lot. Eaglen has sung the stalwart role of Brunnhilde in "Ring" cycles in Milan, Vienna and Chicago; Bellini's "Norma"--her other signature role--in Los Angeles, New York, London and Paris; and Mozart's "Don Giovanni" in L.A., Bologna and Munich. In addition, she's done concerts with numerous major orchestras.

Eaglen is currently appearing in the title role of Puccini's "Turandot" at the Royal Opera House in London.

COMPUTERS: I got married last year and moved to Seattle. We use a Compaq Presario desktop at home, and I also have a Compaq Presario laptop. I've been using computers since about 1992, mostly at first to keep my diary [schedule, in American English], names and addresses and my accounts. When I got a laptop, I played a number of games on it. One of the things you do a lot in this business is sit alone in hotel rooms.

I didn't know anything about going online until I was in a hotel room in Costa Mesa--I was doing "Walkure" down there [in 1994]--and someone said, "You should really try AOL." I did, and I just couldn't believe all this fun stuff I could do. Games, chat with people, read the British news. I really did become completely addicted to it. I think at the time it was closed between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. which was good because if it wasn't, I wouldn't have gotten any sleep at all.

I used to say to myself at midnight, "It's time for bed." I would lie down for a half hour, and then I was up again and back online.

Q. You do a lot of e-mailing?

That's the main way I keep in touch with friends and family. A couple of years ago, we got a computer for my mother, who turned 80 this year. She does very well with it. I've gotten addicted to backgammon recently on AOL, and we showed her that so I could play against her.

Q. And you have a couple of journals online.

On my Web site [http://www.janeeaglen.com] that Sony Music put up there is a journal I kept while doing a "Ring" at the Met last year. The other one is from 1998 for my first "Tristan" for which I tried to take people through everything that happens in putting together a new production, right through the first night and all the performances.

I wrote it every night, almost--I just felt that if I was going to do it, I would do all of it as if I was writing my own journal. Except that it was public. I met my husband, who was working with the Seattle Opera, during that production. So I might say that I had, "dinner with a friend" that night, but not mention we were getting involved.

HAND-HELD: I have a Palm V. It has my diary on it, which is very important to me because I have work scheduled into 2005.

BOOKMARKED SITES: I do quite a lot of buying online--just today I went to 1-800-Flowers to send flowers. And I like to research things. It's become a bit of a joke with friends to ask me if I can find out about something on the Internet. I make it my personal challenge.

Q. Do you do online research for the roles you sing?

Not really. I might go to a Richard Wagner site to check out some of the historical background. But I'm very much a believer that everything I need to know about a role comes from the music and words.

Q. There are a lot of sites and chat rooms devoted to opera put up by fans.

Very soon after getting online, I was disillusioned by all that. I found they were full of a lot of uninformed people saying the most personal stuff--a lot of it untrue--about people. It was just so gossipy and bizarre. I didn't want to read the things they were saying about friends and colleagues I admired. For the last five or six years, I have never gone to these sites.

Q. Did they say untrue things about you?

Not when I saw them at the beginning. But people tell me the kind of things they print. Last year when I was in "Don Giovanni" in Los Angeles, someone posted a message that I had done an entire performance without underwear and had flashed the audience at one point. I can't imagine what kind of person sits around and makes up stuff like that.

CELL PHONE: I have one for America and one for Europe, and they can be reached with the same number. They are kind of a pain. Good to have in an emergency, but frankly, I'm not one of those people who want people to be able to find them anywhere, any time. I turn them off.

Q. Has a cell phone gone off in the audience during a performance?

Yes, a couple of times. Once in the Bastille in Paris during "Turandot" right at the moment of silence before Calaf answers the riddles. I thought later, maybe it was someone trying to phone him with the answers.

HOME SOUND SYSTEM: It's a good system my husband put together. The music I tend to listen to at home is rock. I love Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler and Robbie Williams.

Q. That seems like a different world from yours.

Not really. I chat online with Jim Steinman who wrote "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "Bat Out of Hell," which is an all-time classic. Turns out he's a Richard Wagner fan. I hope someday we can work together.

*

--As told to DAVID COLKER

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