Friday 18 August 2023

Towards a production of Jane Eyre: in advance of their 2024 stage premiere of John Joubert's opera, Green Opera present a musical exploration of the work

John Joubert: Jane Eyre - Green Opera - A musical preview
Composer John Joubert (1927-2019) wrote his song-cycle Six Poems Of Emily Brontë in 1969, and perhaps inevitably was drawn to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. His opera Jane Eyre was written without commission to a libretto by Kenneth Birkin, a post-graduate student of Joubert’s at Birmingham University whose Ph.D. focused on the libretti of Strauss’s post-Hofmannsthal operas. Joubert worked on Jane Eyre from 1987 to 1997. The work never had a proper professional performance and remained one of those tantalising possibilities. 

To mark the 200th anniversary of Brontë’s birth in 2016, and in anticipation of Joubert’s 90th birthday in 2017, Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra gave the work its proper professional premiere in October 2016 in Birmingham, and the resulting live recording was released on the SOMM label in March 2017 to coincide with Joubert’s birthday. 

The opera was performed and recorded in Joubert's revised version, reducing the piece from three to two acts, removing instrumental interludes (these are now part of his Symphony No. 3), and losing around 40 minutes of music so the work now comes in at just under two hours. You can read more in my review of the SOMM recording.

What the work hasn't had, yet, is a proper stage premiere. That is set to change as Green Opera plan to give the work its stage premiere next year. As a taster for this, the company has a musical preview event at the Century Club (2 September 2023) and Pendle Heritage Centre, Burnley (3 September), when it will be possible to hear soprano Laura Mekhail (Jane) and baritone, Thomas Chenhall (Rochester) in excerpts from the opera with pianist Elspeth Wilkes and chat to the production team. Full details from the Green Opera website.

The company is at the Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival this year with two programmes. There is a double bill of opera's with two monodramas centred on women's experience, Poulenc's La voix humaine and Jake Heggie's At the statue of Venus. Egyptian soprano and rising-star, Laura Mekhail makes her UK operatic debut in the title role of Jake Heggie’s comic and moving monologue, whilst New Zealand soprano, Katherine McIndoe performs Poulenc's opera. Both are directed by Eleanor Burke.

The company's other presentation at Grimeborn is for one night only, when counter-tenor Logan Lopez Gonzalez performs 555: Verlaine en prison, an exploration of the poet Verlaine's time in prison after shooting his lover, Rimbaud.

Full details from the Green Opera website.

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