On October 20 and 22, at the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, the Center for Contemporary Opera (CCO) presented the world premiere performances of composer Louis Karchin and librettist Diane Osen’s “Jane Eyre,” after Charlotte Bronte’s classic gothic novel. The second performance is considered here.
“Jane Eyre,” the opera, skips over the orphaned heroine’s childhood and begins with the adult Jane Eyre, governess in Edward Rochester’s mansion, rescuing him from fire and becoming his fiancée, their marriage then thwarted by the revelation that Rochester’s wife, Bertha Mason Rochester, still lives—insane and confined upstairs, but setting fires and inflicting bodily harm. The opera concludes with Jane and Edward’s reunion, after Jane has received a substantial legacy and, in a final fire, Bertha has died and Edward has been wounded. The music is in a post-Wagnerian, Richard Straussian and 20th century American-style idiom and conductor Sara Jobin and her players eloquently realized the rich orchestral tapestry.
Deserving highest praise were soprano Jennifer Zetlan—familiar as Emily in “Our Town,” Nannetta in “Falstaff,” and Xenia in “Boris Godunov”—as Jane Eyre, and tenor Ryan MacPherson—who has been Anatol in “Vanessa” and Jack’s father in “Brokeback Mountain”—impressing in the soaring dramatic and quietly ruminative arias, and joining voices in impassioned duet. MacPherson had a notable turn, disguised as a mysterious gypsy, but recognized by Zetlan.
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, sent by Jane’s dying aunt to bring her home, 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 and heroines Lucia di Lammermoor, Anna Bolena, and Lucrezia Borgia, to appropriate music, and the Ingram women snubbed Jane, earlier in the act. Thompson, Best, and Meglioranza also portrayed Diana, Mary, and St. John Rivers, Jane’s cousins, the last determined to marry her, though she stays true to Edward. Baritone Adam Cannedy played Richard Mason, Bertha’s brother, and Briggs, his attorney, and bass David Salsbery Fry was Mr. Wood, whom Briggs prevents from joining Jane and Edward in marriage..
Kudos go to director Kristine McIntyre and designers Luke Cantarella (sets and video), Burke Brown (lighting), and Rachel Townsend (costumes) for their contributions to this premiere.
CCO’s season continues with Juliet Palmer and Anna Chatterton’s new “Sweat,” on October 26 and 27 at National Sawdust, in Williamsburg, in Brooklyn; Nicola Moro and Lisa Hilton’s “Love Hurts,” on October 28 at Symphony Space; and works by Eric Salzman and friends, including the American premiere of “Cassandra, Ground Zero,” on November 2 at the cell theatre, in Chelsea. Visit www.centerforcontemporaryopera.org
for further information.