Approximate Running Time: Four hours, 20 minutes, with 2 intermissions
In German with English captions
Why did I cast soprano Jane Eaglen as Ortrud?
By Speight Jenkins
Ortrud is in some ways the most mature role in Lohengrin. That is to say, it
is the most like some of Wagner's later roles. Ortrud is evil, joyfully so,
but Wagner gives her some of the most exciting and dramatic music in the whole
opera. She is the most closely tied to the Ring characters, which is logical
when one realizes that her big scene with Telramund at the beginning of Act
II was composed after everything in Lohengrin save the Prelude. Perhaps
because Elsa is always sung by a lyric soprano who can cut through a big
orchestra, Ortrud has often been sung by a mezzo-soprano. But it's really
not a mezzo role. It goes up frequently to A-sharp and most of it is in
the middle vocal range, which is where most of Brünnhilde and Isolde, to
give two famous examples, lie.
My first Ortrud was Margaret Harshaw, a much-loved Wagner soprano and a great teacher.
I also heard Astrid Varnay, one of the great Wagner sopranos of the twentieth century,
sing the role. Hers was a dark, yet persuasive reading. I will never forget
the marvelous change of her voice from the bright curse to the submissive
greeting to Elsa that happened two or three bars later. That was vocal
acting. Birgit Nilsson, the great Swedish heroic soprano, never sang Ortrud,
but that was simply because no one would pay her fee for such a short Wagner
When I came to cast the part this time, I decided almost immediately that given
Varnay's example, it was a logical part for Jane Eaglen. Her voice is quite different,
but she has expression in all her registers and great warmth of sound. I asked
Jane, and she at first hesitated. When I talked about Varnay, she agreed
to look at the part. Within hours, Jane called me back to say, "I'm
in. I would love to sing it." It will be, I think, an exciting addition
to her formidable Wagner repertoire.