Chautauqua came alive: Christie, Eaglen and Wagner

Jean Eaglen was grand, thrilling, in generous control of the music

| Aug 3, 2010

Something happened up at Chautauqua last night. There was a breakthrough — under all that magnificent timbering. I thought I heard a new orchestra and a new music.
Soprano Jane Eaglen

Soprano Jane Eaglen

It seemed to me a breakthrough into a maturity and authority and capacity for greatness that I have not fully experienced before, and it was for Wagner’s Tristan and Ring with soprano Jane Eaglen. Of course, it might just have been me and my enthusiasm for this music. I was loaded for bear, I admit. But, for me this was one of the finest moments among all the fine moments I have known in Boulder, since I was first taken to Chautauqua, new-born, back in ‘26.

Conductor Michael Christie, was out of the body as he built, phrased, and defined that great music. He was beautiful in ways he could not himself know, unable, like us, to see himself at work. His ability to sustain himself and his orchestra in so huge a work is remarkable. He is an authorized Wagnerian now — and one of note.

Like many others, I went worrying about Jane Eaglen and her Isolde and Brunhilde. But I ought not to have. She was grand, thrilling, in generous control of the music, the hall, and us in the audience. It was fine to see her looking superb and to hear her. Those big moments that she and Christie built up out of the orchestra and her heroic voice knocked me right up out of my seat.

I have always wanted to be, in Bernard Shaw’s phrase, “the Perfect Wagnerite.” And last night I came to my Wagner and heard him fresh, true, immensely powerful and intelligent — almost with the thrill of that first time so long ago when I heard Flagstad and Melchior with Toscanini beating time.

And to think we otherwise might not have this magnificent thing, this orchestra, but for the great old Chautauqua hall standing there since 1898, a hall of such acoustic and architectural perfection. Just think! And but for the enlightened vision of the City of Boulder it might have been “scraped off” and we not have this superb Wagnerian orchestra.

So, I have to tell you that it was some evening of concert-going last night! And now the season must end come Friday with Mahler’s Fifth.

Come one, come all! I know the best seat in the house, but I’m not telling.

Gordon Wickstrom is a Boulder native, navy man in the Philippines, CU grad and Stanford Ph.D., professor of drama, director and sometime actor. He retired home to Boulder in 1991, fishes with his wife Betty, and writes books, essays and columns on the angling life and on theatre. He is the oldest living — in captivity — writer about fishing in English, and a member, for the sake of his obituary, of the Flyfishers’ Club of London.

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