Her first major operatic role was Olga in the Vancouver Opera's 1985 production of Eugene Onegin. Other roles with that company included the title role in Carmen in Lucian Pintilie's controversial production at Expo 86, Suzuki (Butterfly, 1987), Orlofsky (Die Fledermaus, 1988), Dryade (Ariadne auf Naxos, 1989), and Maddalena (Rigoletto, 1989). With Opera Atelier she was Sextus in its 1987 production of Giulio Cesare and with Ottawa's Opera Lyra she was Musetta in 1988 and Carmen in 1989. Her first major COC role was Bersi in Andrea Chenier (1989), followed by Anina in Der Rosenkavalier (1990) and Annio in La Clemenza di Tito (1991). She has also performed various roles with Stuart Hamilton's Opera in Concert. She made her US debut in 1987 as Princess Marghanza in John Philip Sousa's El Capitan for the Indiana Opera. In 1989 she sang in the premiere of John Beckwith's Crazy to Kill as Agatha Lawson. With the Welsh National Opera in 1990, she made her European debut as Dorabella in Così fan Tutte and, later the same year, sang the title role in Carmen. She also sang in two productions with COMUS Music Theatre.
Stilwell, who has sung with most of Canada's major orchestras, has performed in concert works such as Brahms' Alto Rhapsody, Mahler's Symphony No. 8, Schafer's Adieu, Robert Schumann, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. In 1989 she was soloist in Vivaldi's Gloria conducted by Trevor Pinnock at the New York Mostly Mozart Festival. She made her Wigmore Hall recital debut in 1989.
Her voice has been described as 'a creamy but solid lyric mezzo,' (Kareda) and her stage presence as sultry, magnetic and assured - she is a physically impressive singer, with poise and a strong dramatic flair.
Stilwell is married to Robert Speer, double-bassist with the COC and National Ballet orchestras.
See also Margaret Stilwell (her mother).
Author Barbara Norman
Kareda, Urjo. 'The prime of Ms Jean Stilwell,' Toronto, Apr 1987