ALBUM TITLE: Joubert
WORKS: Jane Eyre
PERFORMER: April Fredrick, David Stout, Gwion Thomas, Mark Milhofer, Clare McCaldin, Lesley-Jane Rogers, Lorraine Payne, Charles Humphreys, Alan Fairs, Samuel Oram, Felix Kemp, Andrew Mayor; English Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Woods
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 263-2
During the ‘British Opera in Retrospect’ project of 1985, one of its organisers commented that given the slim chances for public exposure it was a wonder that British composers bothered to write operas at all. The situation hasn’t substantially improved, though wonderful surprises can happen, as with John Joubert’s Jane Eyre, completed in 1997, recorded last year at its first performance in concert form, and issued on CD to mark his 90th birthday. Born in South Africa but long a British resident, Joubert turned to the English classics for several previous operas (George Eliot’s Silas Marner, Conrad’s Under Western Eyes) and his kinship with the dark romance of Charlotte Brontë’s novel, embedded in richly expressive diatonic music, soars from this eloquent performance.
Joubert might have overdone his belated re-shaping of the score – the three-act original, never fully staged, now comes in two acts, with 40 minutes cut. Kenneth Birkin’s already streamlined libretto races from highlight to highlight, and some key details only surface in the booklet’s synopsis. Still, Joubert’s tapestry of recitative and aria, following the example of Britten and other late operatic masters, and sturdily woven from criss-crossing motives, never short-changes the tormented love of Jane and Mr Rochester.
Nor do the leads disappoint. April Fredrick’s passion and clarity ring out from every register, and David Stout’s searing cries during Act II are hard to forget. Kenneth Woods and his orchestra revel in the opera’s melodic beauties and haunting instrumental colours. The same pleasures await the enquiring listener.