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Accessibility in Michael Berkeley's "Jane Eyre"

Sarah K Farr, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In an environment where it is difficult to secure performances of a new opera and rare to see new works continued to be performed, the success of Michael Berkeley's Jane Eyre, an opera written for a small festival, is notable and requires a closer look. Jane Eyre has achieved this success by maintaining accessibility to the three groups crucial to its continued success: audiences, singers and opera companies. Defining simplicity through Albert Einstein's idiom "simple as possible, but not simpler," and the writings of Ezra Sims on simplicity in music lead to an investigation of two elements of Jane Eyre: the libretto by David Malouf and the vocal line Berkeley composed. Using source material familiar to audiences and streamlining the original novel's plot and character list enhances the opera's accessibility. While Berkeley's vocal line contains complex elements, these elements are frequently present during moments of dramatic tension and complexity while moments of simplicity correlate to moments of dramatic resolution in the opera. A study of the tessituras of the opera's roles using Richard Rastall's Pitch Center of Gravity method reveals that they are written to "fit" well in the voices meant to perform the roles. As accessibility is attained for both audiences and singers, it becomes more economically feasible for an opera company to produce Jane Eyre, making it accessible to this group as well.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Farr, Sarah K, "Accessibility in Michael Berkeley's "Jane Eyre"" (2013). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3604716.