M Berkeley: Jane Eyre

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: M Berkeley
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Jane Eyre
PERFORMER: Natasha Marsh, Fflur Wyn, Emily Bauer-Jones, Andrew Slater; Music Theatre Wales Ensemble/Michael Rafferty
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9983
First there was an operatic Wuthering Heights by that master of Hollywood atmosphere Bernard Herrmann. Now Michael Berkeley has teamed up with David Malouf to focus on the brides of Thornfield, as Jane Eyre might well be called in this more modestly scaled slice of Brontë-inspired music theatre. Scott’s bride of Lammermoor as characterised by Donizetti lurks behind the extended role of the first Mrs Rochester, waltzing to a distorted version of Lucia’s mad scene before the heroine encounters her in the climactic scene of Act II. Other than this and another waltz-strain to evoke longed-for Paris fashions, there isn’t a great deal to break the low-level gloom of Berkeley’s score. It does quickly establish a glissando-crazy menace as Malouf’s Jane reflects on her escape from Thornfield at the beginning of the work – a scene to which the selective drama usefully returns – but there are few places for the claustrophobic instrumental ensemble or the tritone-dominated vocal lines to go and not enough distinctive speech-melodies to jolt the listener out of a spooky torpor (though ‘come home if you dare, Edward Rochester’ is almost memorable).

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Certainly to be applauded is the aim of furnishing a concentrated vehicle for the touring company Music Theatre Wales. The voices mesh hauntingly with many expressive instrumental contributions, notably from the flautist, and Natasha Marsh’s Jane copes well with her high-lying melismas – at least until the final redemptive duet, where Berkeley goes to Hollywood and perhaps demands too much from his singing actors. The Linbury Theatre recording vividly reflects the intimacy of the project. Not exactly The Turn of the Screw, then, but the opera might just work in a small space. David Nice