Naxos adds another gem to its American Opera Classics series with Louis Karchin’s Jane Eyre, an appealing work whose veneer of accessibility masks finely wrought complexities. Already recognized for several acclaimed song cycles and the one-act opera Romulus, Karchin (b. 1951) describes Eyre, composed over a four-year period, as “the largest project I have ever undertaken”. He is clearly a master of theatrical writing. In the best operatic traditions, the score has an inner logic that mirrors the dramatic progression of each aria, scene, and the piece as a whole. The lilting phrases of the Prelude immediately establish an atmosphere of Gothic Romance, and structural formality evokes the sense of period. There are three acts with three scenes each, and Diane Osen’s libretto (Karchin rightly calls it a “feat of compression”) abounds in neat rhyme schemes that strike a remarkable balance between plainspoken clarity and what the composer terms a “faithful echo” of Bronte’s “distinctive syntax”. The composer’s engaging and melodious vocal writing employs a variety of expressive techniques to differentiate the characters. For example, in the final scene of Act I, Rochester opens up to Jane about his history of dissolution with short phrases and awkward intervals. When Jane responds (‘It is God alone who judges’), her vocal lines are even and sustained, and the captivating sweetness of the three-note falling figures in the orchestra exorcise Rochester’s demons in a flash. There are numerous orchestral highlights as well, all with purpose and direction, like the interlude between the second and third scenes of Act 2 that sets the mood for Jane’s aborted wedding to Mr Rochester. A number of full-blown solos for the principals, designed to “help establish their characters and the emotions that motivate them”, are inserted into the first act. Thus, two consecutive and contrasting arias in the very first scene give Jennifer Zetlan the opportunity to display her commanding vocal presence in the title role. Her instrument is a bright and flexible soprano, and she makes every phrase sound natural and artless. It’s no wonder Zetlan is in high demand for new works … Ryan MacPherson gives a fully committed performance of Mr Rochester, a role that demands the robustness of a verismo tenor. He hits all of the character’s explosive cadences on the mark and shows a flair for character singing, as when he disguises himself as a Gypsy in order to elicit information from Jane about her feelings for him. Together, Zetlan and MacPherson make the most of the exquisitely moving redemption scene that ends the opera. The full libretto is included, though hardly required, thanks to the happy confluence of Karchin’s canny setting of text, the consistency of the singers’ diction, and the high quality of the audio engineering. Under the composer’s direction, the Orchestra of the League of Composers plays the sumptuous score with notable grace.
THE PROLIFIC AND much-awarded composer/conductor Louis Karchin (b. 1951), a professor of music at NYU, wrote this operatic adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's novel with librettist Diane Osen. It was recorded a year after a 2016 production at New York's Center for Contemporary Opera, and the entire cast returned to record their roles.
Karchin lavishes imagination and musical weight on every line ... he dexterously covers a wide range of the tonal spectrum, sustaining our interest with well-calibrated harmonic tension and resolution. The variety of musical language is particularly effective in Jane's first aria, in which she relates some of her own history. "I was but six, an angry child," she begins, amid fraught and astringent harmonies, the vocal melody leaping around with angularity. As the aria proceeds, the melody becomes more lyrical, but the accompaniment remains predominantly dissonant. As Jane reaches her eventual note of triumph ("No more haunted by the past / And blessed in all things by the Lord"), the aria concludes resolutely in A-flat major. Jennifer Zetlan, with her resplendent tone and dazzlingly clear delivery, gives a ceaselessly compelling, emotionally complex performance. The composer paints an equally vivid picture of Rochester in his Act I aria: as Rochester describes his formerly dissipated lifestyle, the music is rambunctious and disjointed. Then, when he describes the "miracle" that enabled him to regain his soul (Jane), the melody flowers and soars. Tenor Ryan MacPherson provides beautiful vocal timbre- resonant, ringing and urgent. Zetlan confirms everything wonderful that MacPherson has just indirectly sung about her when she makes her entrance. Later, after the revelation at the wedding that Rochester is already married, MacPherson delivers an emotional maelstrom of apology, defensiveness, outrage, pleading and passion, ending on a high A-flat amid a ringing D-flat-major chord in the orchestra. Other high points include a passage for Blanche, the snobbish beauty Rochester has no intention of marrying, who can scarcely disguise her class condescension when referring to Jane. Katrina Thurman leaps through this bouncy aria with enjoyably imperious agility. The drama also heats up in Act III in the schoolhouse scene with the Rivers family, as the news arrives that Jane Eyre is missing from the Rochester manor and revelations about her pile up. Baritone Thomas Meglioranza as St. John Rivers raises the stakes in this passage. In the next scene, he comes even more vividly to life in the tumultuous back-and-forth with Zetlan's Jane about their future. He has proposed a loveless marriage based on missionary work, and the agitated music drives home both his relentless demands and her roiling emotions.
Kimberly Giordano, as Mrs. Fairfax, has a gripping passage in the final scene; she covers considerable emotional ground describing Rochester's distraught state after Jane left, the fire and his failed attempt to rescue his wife. The reunion of Jane and Rochester at the end is moving and cathartic; slow-building Wagnerian harmonies signal a happy end for the wounded but prevailing couple.
The composer conducts the first-rate Orchestra of the League of Composers in this admirably produced recording. Karchin has a sure hand with the players, and the suitably creepy instrumental interludes are particularly well played.
Charlotte Brontë’s celebrated novel Jane Eyre seems ripe for opera. Indeed, 2016 saw the concert premiere of John Joubert’s 1997 British adaptation as well as the staged premiere of this equally ambitious offering by American composer Louis Karchin and librettist Diane Osen. Theirs is in three acts and opens with a love not yet declared, but palpable, between Jane and Rochester – whom she rescues in the first scene from a fire we later learn is set by his mad, attic-held wife Bertha.
The narrative is emotionally charged, the romantic tension well-drawn in its anguish … (the) characters sing with dramatic fervour throughout... While nods are made to social unorthodoxies and Byronic character flaws, there’s never any doubt that the couple will ultimately be united.
Yet the score is extremely well-crafted, with intense and detailed orchestral writing that owes much to the Strauss of Rosenkavalier and, less obviously, Salome. It’s vigorously performed by the Orchestra of the League of Composers in support of impressive principals, Jennifer Zetlan and Ryan MacPherson, under Karchin’s baton.
Composta tra il 2010 e il 2014 su libretto di Diane Osen, Jane Eyreè l’opera più impegnativa di Louis Karchin dal momento che il suo primo lavoro teatrale, Romulus, del 1990, ma rappresentato per la prima volta nel 2007, era un atto unico. Tratta dal capolavoro uscito dalla penna di Charlotte Brontë, quest’opera pone diverse sfide, dalla riduzione librettistica del lungo romanzo, che seguiva un periodo abbastanza lungo della vita dell’eponima protagonista, alla realizzazione musicale.
Per quanto riguarda il primo aspetto, dal punto di vista drammaturgico appare molto efficace la scelta della Osen di saltare le vicende relative all’infanzia della protagonista, al suo soggiorno presso la zia e al periodo trascorso al Lowood, una scuola per orfanelle, per concentrarsi sulla narrazione degli eventi riguardanti l’amore inizialmente contrastato della protagonista con Edward Rochester. Nella prima scena del primo atto Jane Eyre si trova, infatti, già a Thornfield, dove si sta sviluppando nella camera da letto di Rochester un principio di incendio che la protagonista tenta di spegnere. Jane coglie l’occasione per raccontare la sua vita precedente nell’aria That mirthless laugh, so weird and low e i due incominciano a provare un’attrazione reciproca. Rivale di Jane è però Blanche Ingram, ospite, insieme alla sua famiglia, a Thornfield, in occasione di una festa nella quale Rochester, travestitosi da zingara per leggere la mano alle due donne, rinfaccia, avvalendosi di questo stratagemma, la sua vera natura a Blanche e conosce, nel contempo, meglio quella di Jane. Nella terza e ultima scena dell’atto fa la sua apparizione un misterioso personaggio, Richard Meson che Rochester affida a Jane, la quale viene raggiunta da una notizia: la vecchia zia sta per morire e intende rivelarle un segreto. Nel secondo atto Jane, ritornata a Thornfield, è determinata a sposare Rochester nonostante la governante, la signora Fairfax, cerchi di farla desistere e nonostante i cattivi presagi manifestatisi in un incubo che Rochester riesce alla fine a dissipare. A Thornfield è tutto pronto per il matrimonio che sta per essere celebrato, quando giunge Mr. Briggs, un avvocato il quale dichiara che Rochester è già sposato con la sorella di Mason la quale, completamente pazza, vive in una soffitta in quella stessa residenza. Il matrimonio non può essere, dunque, celebrato e Rochester propone di andare via insieme a Jane che rifiuta, sacrificando la sua felicità ai principi della comune moralità. Nel terzo atto ritroviamo Jane, lontana da Rochester, che insegna in una scuola in seguito all’aiuto del pastore St. John. Raggiunta qui da una lettera di Mr. Briggs nella quale si afferma che è beneficiaria di una ricca eredità, la nostra protagonista è fatta oggetto di una proposta di matrimonio da parte di St. John che le chiede di seguirlo in India per supportarlo nel suo lavoro di missionario. La donna, però, sente una voce che la chiama a Thornfield, dove, ritornatavi, viene a sapere dalla signora Fairfax che la moglie del suo vecchio padrone è morta durante un incendio da lei stessa causato e che lo stesso Rochester ha perso la vista nel tentativo di salvarla. I due finalmente si riuniscono in un momento di forte passione per non lasciarsi più. In merito alla musica è molto interessante la scelta di Karchin di avvalersi di una scrittura fondamentalmente atonale e di un’orchestrazione particolarmente curata che rappresenta con forza icastica le situazioni dell’opera per non disdegnare anche momenti tonali come lo splendido finale che vede il definitivo ricongiungimento dei due innamorati. Non mancano nemmeno le incursioni nella musica popolare con citazioni sia di temi di alcune arie da salotto tratti da una raccolta inglese del XIX sec. di grande effetto perché servono ad ambientare la seconda scena dell’atto primo, nella quale si svolge una festa a Thornfield, sia di opere ottocentesche come quelle della Lucia di Lammermoor, opera particolarmente amata da un Rochester che, in questo lavoro di Karchin, a differenza di quello uscito dalla penna di Brontë, si scopre melomane. La scrittura vocale, che prende la forma dell’aria e dell’arioso, ma anche di pezzi d’insieme come il raffinato quartetto che conclude il primo atto, può apparire in alcuni passi particolarmente drammatici un po’ impervia con intervalli di difficile intonazione che a volte superano l’ottava per dare vita, in altri, a momenti di puro lirismo.
Rappresentata per la prima volta alla Kaye Playhouse di Manhattan nel mese di ottobre del 2016, l’opera, registrata nel 2017, è fruibile in un doppio cd pubblicato dall’etichetta Naxos nel mese di settembre del 2019. Ottima la qualità dell’esecuzione ben concertata dallo stesso compositore Louis Karchin, sul podio dell’Orchestra of the League of Composers. Passando agli interpreti, Jennifer Zetlan appare perfettamente calata nel ruolo dell’eponima protagonista dal momento che affronta con disinvoltura, grazie a una bella voce dal timbro chiaro, abbastanza omogenea e con acuti squillanti, sia i passi vocalmente più impervi e più drammatici sia quelli maggiormente marcati in senso lirico come lo splendido finale dove, al suo fianco, trova in Ryan MacPherson un Edward Rochester di pari valore. Dotato anche lui di una voce omogenea e dal timbro chiaro, MacPherson è a suo agio in tutte le situazioni dalle più drammatiche a quelle più liriche ed è molto bravo nel contraffare la sua voce per rendere quella della zingara nella seconda scena dell’atto primo. Tra le numerose parti di fianco meritano una segnalazione Katrina Thurman, una Blanche Ingram un po’ frivola, e Thomas Meglioranza, bravo nella doppia veste di Roderick Ingram e St. John Rivers, del quale interpreta con la stessa efficacia sia il lato dolce nella prima scena dell’atto terzo sia quello rabbioso in quella successiva. In ruolo tutti gli altri: Adam Cannedy (Richard Mason / Mr. Briggs) Jessica Thompson (Mrs. Ingram / Diana Rivers), Kimberly Giordano (Mrs. Fairfax), Jessica Best (Mary Rivers / Bessie) e David Salsbery Fry (Mr. Wood).
TRANSLATION: Ashby Cogan
Composed between 2010 and 2014, with a libretto by Diane Osen, Jane Eyre is Louis Karchin’s most ambitious opera and his first work for the stage since Romulus (published 1990, debuted 2007), a one-act. Based on Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece, this project posed various challenges, from the adaptation of the novel, which unfolds over quite a long time during the eponymous protagonist’s life, to the musical realization itself.
As far as the first challenge is concerned, from the dramaturgical point of view Osen’s choice to skip the events related to the protagonist’s childhood is very effective. Osen forgoes portraying the protagonist’s stay with her aunt’s family and her time spent at Lowood, a school for orphan girls, to concentrate on the narrative of her and Edward Rochester’s initially thwarted love. Indeed, the first scene of Act I finds Jane Eyre already at Thornfield, where, in Rochester’s bedroom, she extinguishes a fire that has been set. Jane uses the opportunity to tell the story of her earlier life in the aria “That mirthless laugh, so weird and low,” and she and Rochester begin to feel a mutual attraction. However, Jane has a rival in Blanche Ingram, a guest staying with her family at Thornfield. During a party, Rochester—dressed as a fortune-teller and reading the two women’s palms—uses this pretense to reveal Blanche’s true nature and at the same time learn more about Jane. In the third and final scene of Act I a mysterious character, Richard Mason, makes his entrance; and Jane receives the news that her elderly aunt is nearing death and wants to reveal a secret to her.
In the second act Jane, who has returned to Thornfield, is determined to marry Rochester in spite of the efforts of Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper, to stop her, as well as a bad omen in the form of a ghostly apparition that Rochester finally manages to dismiss. Everything is ready at Thornfield for the wedding, which is about to begin when the attorney Mr. Briggs arrives and declares that Rochester is already married to Mason’s sister, who is insane and lives in a tower in Thornfield itself. Thus, the marriage cannot proceed; Rochester proposes that he and Jane run off together, but Jane refuses, sacrificing happiness in order to uphold her morals.
In the third act we find Jane far from Rochester, working as a schoolteacher as a result of help from the clergyman St. John. Upon learning from a letter from Mr. Briggs that she is the beneficiary of a large inheritance, our protagonist finds herself the recipient of a marriage proposal by St. John, who asks her to come with him to India and aid him in his work as a missionary. Jane, however, feels as if a voice is calling her back to Thornfield. When she returns there she learns from Mrs. Fairfax that her former employer’s wife died during a fire that she herself set, and that Rochester lost most of his vision while attempting to save her. In a deeply passionate moment he and Jane finally reunite, never again to part.
As for the music, Karchin makes a very interesting choice, employing a fundamentally atonal idiom and a strikingly original orchestration to depict the events of the opera with memorable intensity—all of this is without compromising tonal moments such as the splendid finale that sees the definitive reunion of the two lovers. Well-placed selections of popular music of the era, from salon music to operatic repertoire, also color the score. Themes from a nineteenth-century collection of English parlor songs set the ambiance for the party at Thornfield in the second scene of Act I to great effect; we also hear quotations of nineteenth-century works such as Lucia di Lammermoor, an opera, in Karchin and Osen’s adaptation, particularly beloved by Rochester, and Rochester is exquisitely sensitive to this haunting music. The vocal writing, which includes aria and arioso passages as well as ensembles such as the sophisticated quartet that concludes Act I, can seem a bit daunting, particularly in some of the dramatic passages, where hard-to-tune intervals may eclipse the octave; these lead in turn to moments of pure lyricism.
Having had its debut at Manhattan’s Kaye Playhouse in October 2016, the opera is available in a double CD recorded in 2017 and released by the Naxos label in September 2019. This optimally executed performance is well-conducted by the composer himself, directing the Orchestra of the League of Composers. Among the singers, Jennifer Zetlan appears to perfectly embody the eponymous protagonist; thanks to a beautiful voice, with a clear and even timbre and a bright high register, she faces with ease both the most vocally challenging and dramatic passages and the most lyrical ones, such as the splendid finale in which Ryan MacPherson sings a well-matched Edward Rochester at her side. Also endowed with a smooth and clear-timbred voice, MacPherson is at ease in all contexts, from the most dramatic to the most lyrical; and he is excellent in disguising his voice to portray the fortune-teller in the second scene of Act I. Among the numerous supporting roles, special commendation is deserved by Katrina Thurman, portraying the somewhat vacuous Blanche Ingram, and by Thomas Meglioranza, excellent in the dual roles of Roderick Ingram and St. John Rivers. Meglioranza interprets the latter’s tender side in the first scene of Act III—and his wrath in the next—with the same efficacy. The rest of the supporting roles are sung by Adam Cannedy (Richard Mason / Mr. Briggs), Jessica Thompson (Mrs. Ingram / Diana Rivers), Kimberly Giordano (Mrs. Fairfax), Jessica Best (Mary Rivers / Bessie), and David Salsbery Fry (Mr. Wood).
In 2016 at Hunter College, New York, the Center for Contemporary Opera staged the world premiere of Jane Eyre in which composer Louis Karchin and librettist Diane Osen seized on the relentless flow of fire and brimstone that made Charlotte Bronte's fame. Recorded a year later at SUNY Purchase with the original cast, it sounds sumptuously melodramatic, and there is no downplaying Rochester's dark side here; in the theatre it must have been hair-raising.
Karchin and Osen hewed closely to the nature of Bronte's writing: the score is emotionally intense down to the smallest details, so the extravagant behaviour of the characters seems reasonable. The resulting fierce narrative ignites larger-than-life theatrical outbursts that are perfect for arias and ensemble pieces, brilliantly aided and abetted by the virtuoso Orchestra of the League of Composers. From the opening strains of melody, when chiaroscuro colours anticipate this will be a moody, highly inventive score, there is no abating in the energy, just like the novel.
Jennifer Zetlan as Jane has the greatest music and sings it triumphantly; her biographical aria leading to 'A governess in this great house' is simply glorious and charged with chemistry. Ryan MacPherson fills out Rochester 's personality thrillingly, and shows versatility as the creepily insinuating fortune teller.
Karchin's charming musical candy box includes a broad range of influences from Bruckner to Tchaikovsky, including the highly entertaining use of excerpts from Lucia di Lammermoor.
Karchin’s musical language is wildly inventive, and his orchestrations vivid and deft…evocative orchestral passages that captured the novel’s repressed romantic passion. The singers rose to the opera’s challenges with blazing talent and commitment. Jennifer Zetlan’s performance in the title role was nothing short of heroic. Her Jane was plucky, innocent, and appealingly self-aware, quietly observant but palpating with deep emotion. Tenor Ryan MacPherson made a handsome, elegant Rochester, singing with brilliant, bright tone. Baritone Thomas Meglioranza was perfectly pitched as Jane’s pious cousin St. John Rivers, while Jessica Thompson and Jessica Best fluttered appealingly as his affectionate sisters. Soprano Kimberly Giordano added warmth to the staunch housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. The sizable orchestra, led by Sara Jobin, played superbly…..
Diane Osen’s sturdy libretto for Karchin does a good job of boiling the novel down to its essence: the romantic relationship between the governess Jane Eyre and Rochester, master of the estate on which she is employed. The opera is paced engagingly and, like Lucia di Lammermoor (Donizetti fragments having been quoted earlier), it builds to a stormy Act 2 climax in which an intruder interrupts a wedding ceremony….. “[The] final duet came off as a high point, a soaring piece that put a four-note motif through churning modulatory progressions before reaching a serene sustained chord to end the opera in a Wagnerian manner. This was just one element of Karchin’s richly eclectic style…. “Karchin, a New York University professor whom Andrew Porter called a ‘composer of ‘fearless eloquence’, proved himself a master of his craft. CCO served Jane Eyre well, especially in the casting of the leading roles with Jennifer Zetlan as Jane and Ryan MacPherson as Rochester, who brought their characters to vivid vocal and dramatic life…. “ Keenly directed by Kristine McIntrye.
“Karchin’s Jane Eyre is an old-fashioned opera, bold in its aim, unblushing about opera’s traditions. I got the feeling that Karchin was writing from the heart, as well as the head—that he was not out to impress critics or colleagues, but to write a good opera…... “He tells the story through the orchestra, as much as the singers, with their words. This is a symphonic opera as much as a vocal one. Karchin writes like a man who has lived with opera, although Jane Eyre is only his second opera, and his first full-length one. Ah well: Beethoven wrote just one opera. So did Gershwin.
“In the Kaye Playhouse, Jane Eyre was served by a very good production, overseen by the director, Kristine McIntyre. Use of video was intelligent. At every turn, the production enhanced the story, libretto, and music, rather than overtaking them. The Directors’ Guild may revoke McIntrye’s membership…. “The librettist, too, deserves a bow. She has performed a feat of compression. Osen’s libretto is dotted with interesting couplets. I wrote one of them down: ‘Can I trust you with this task?’ ‘Need you ask?’
“The title role, Jane Eyre, is a big soprano role, a tour de force. It was created—i. e., premiered—by Jennifer Zetlan. She can be proud of this night, and look back on it with great satisfaction. Outstanding in a smaller role was Katrina Thurman, another soprano, who played Blanche Ingram: bitchy, catty, well-nigh villainous…. “The composer, and the librettist, and the stage director—and the novelist, Charlotte Brontë—had me the whole way. The end was moving, as Jane returns to Rochester, in his wrecked physical state. I thought, ‘This opera, in its warmth, beauty, and goodness, is brave.
Crucial arias and scenes build to glittering radiance….big arias that end with flourishes and invite applause…. The cast members gave their all, especially Ryan MacPherson as Rochester and Thomas Meglioranza as St. John Rivers, a minister who appears later in the story. Sara Jobin conducted a colorful, bristling account of the score.
There were striking ensembles, as when Zetlan and McPherson sang with soprano Kimberly Giordano, as Mrs. Fairfax, his housekeeper, and mezzo-soprano Jessica Best, as Bessie, to close Act One, and when Rochester and the Ingrams—soprano Jessica Thompson as haughty Mrs. Ingram, baritone Thomas Meglioranza as Roderick, and soprano Katrina Thurman as Blanche, who would be Edward’s bride—discussed Donizetti operas…. “Kudos go to director Kristine McIntyre and designers Luke Cantarella (sets and video), Burke Brown (lighting) and Rachel Townsend (costumes).
One of the best things about the new operatic adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is that it doesn’t tell the whole story. Written by composer Louis Karchin, this opera is at once a retelling of the celebrated novel and something of a throwback to the way operas were written a century ago. The show was mounted in a handsome production at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College.… “Mr. Karchin’s score eschews traditional arias for a shifting chromatic orchestral fabric. His score is inventive, melodic and leitmotivic, with dark themes indicating the lurking Bertha and a bright, rising melody for Jane. As Rochester, Mr. MacPherson gave an impressive and ardent performance…..[and] a star-making turn for Ms. Zetlan.