Prologue. Jane is running, her journey hindered by imaginary male figures – her inner demons. She collapses and is discovered by St. John. He carries her to his home, and with his sisters, aids her recovery, listening to fragments of her story that escape from her dark dreams.
An Orphan. Young Jane is orphaned and raised without love by her wealthy Aunt, Mrs. Reed. Her cousins Eliza, Georgiana and John torment her until she retaliates against John’s physical abuse. Horrified by what she misconstrues as Jane’s arrogance and violence, her Aunt asks Reverend Brocklehurst to take Jane away to Lowood Institution for orphaned girls.
Lowood Institution. The girls lead a rigid life of deprivation under their cruel headmaster Rev. Brocklehurst. Jane befriends Helen Burns, but when Helen dies of consumption, an anguished Jane finds herself questioning her destiny.
Grown Up. Reaching adulthood, Jane has completed her studies and becomes a teacher to the orphans. However, she yearns for new experiences in the wider world and accepts an invitation to become governess at Thornfield Hall.
Thornfield. Jane is welcomed to Thornfield by the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, and her new pupil, Adele. Her employer, Edward Rochester, returns home from his world travels. Dark and passionate, he is surprised to meet his intellectual match in Jane and treats her with a respect she has never known.
All is not peaceful at Thornfield, however; Jane senses secrets within the whispering walls. One night, Jane is woken by the smell of smoke and rescues Mr. Rochester from his flaming bed. As they stand in the fire’s aftermath, an intimacy is born that both excites and scares Jane.
Jealousy. A dinner party takes place at Thornfield and Jane feels shy and unconfident in the presence of Rochester’s grand guests, especially the beautiful and wealthy Blanche Ingram, who seems to have caught Mr. Rochester’s attention. Jane remains at the party at Mr. Rochester’s insistence until the festivities are interrupted by a servant, Grace Poole, who enters inexplicably agitated and injured. Mr. Rochester sends the party guests away whilst entrusting Grace Poole to Jane’s care.
A Proposal. Rochester returns to the ballroom where Jane waits alone. He attempts to revive the intimacy between them but she pulls back, convinced that he is engaged to Blanche Ingram. When Rochester proposes marriage to a stunned Jane, she initially believes he is mocking her. She eventually accepts, unaware of a mysterious woman in red watching them from the shadows.
A Wedding. The household prepares for Jane and Rochester’s wedding. As the intimate ceremony begins, a woman bursts into the room. She is Bertha Mason, and she claims to be the wife of Mr. Rochester. He admits that Bertha is speaking the truth and that he cannot legally make Jane his wife. Utterly heartbroken, Jane cannot conceive of a future with Mr. Rochester and flees alone into the moors, where she collapses.
Taken In. St. John Rivers discovers Jane almost unconscious and takes her home to his sisters. She is very ill and experiences distressing dreams about her past. Gently, the women nurture Jane back to health. St. John sees a potential wife in Jane; however, she recoils from his cool yet insistent proposal, recognizing that St. John will never love her with the same passion as Mr. Rochester.
Burnt. A determined Jane returns to seek Mr. Rochester at Thornfield, but in her absence there has been a huge fire, ignited – for the second time – by Bertha Mason. With every reason to wish Bertha dead, Mr. Rochester still attempts to save her from her own hand but fails – she dies, and he is left blind.
Jane finds Mr. Rochester a broken man. Yet, as he recognizes her presence, he falls into her arms. Jane proposes marriage to Mr. Rochester, and as they embrace, forever as equals, Jane looks ahead to her future. She has not only found love but also gained ownership of her own destiny.
Philip Feeney wrote and arranged the music for Jane Eyre, based on excerpts from compositions by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Felix Mendelssohn, and Franz Schubert, to evoke the story’s unique world. In choreographing the ballet, Cathy Marston sought music that would describe the era during which Charlotte Brontë’s novel was set and give rich dimension to Jane Eyre as a character. For this reason, Feeney and Marston chose music by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847) and her brother Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), whose lives coincided with that of Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) and, in addition, works by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). In order to provide a sense of Jane Eyre’s psychology and the evolution of her character, Feeney integrated these selections of nineteenth century music into a musical score of contemporary resonance.
More than 15 selections were drawn by Feeney from works by Fanny Mendelssohn, including character pieces for solo piano, a fantasy for cello and piano, and a string quartet. Fanny Mendelssohn, a gifted pianist, was like her famous brother, a prodigious composer. She wrote more than 450 compositions, the majority of which were songs or works for piano. However, few were published during her lifetime. As a result, Fanny Mendelssohn’s musical legacy remained largely unknown until the late 20th century. One of the works that spurred a revival of interest in Fanny Mendelssohn’s music was Das Jahr or The Year, a collection of piano pieces and musical souvenir of travels through Italy she undertook with her husband and son. Feeney chose five of Das Jahr’s pieces.
Felix Mendelssohn, well-known for four symphonies, instrumental concertos, choral and vocal music, and solo piano works, completed six string quartets. Feeney includes one piece, the fourth movement—impassioned, at times, despairing—from the String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80, for the Jane Eyre score. Schubert’s music is represented by three works, including the affecting art song Auf dem Wasser zu Singen, with images of shimmering waves and reflections on the passing of time. The expressive, poignant second movement of the composer’s Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960, forms part of the score at the end of the first act.
List of music excerpts:
Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847)
Das Jahr, Op. 385, nos. 5, 6, 7, 9, and 13
Six mélodies pour le piano (published Berlin 1847)
Piano Sonata in G minor, Op. 395
Six Character Pieces (published 1846)
String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 277, Scherzo
Fantasia in G minor for cello and piano, Op. 238
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80, fourth movement
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810, “Death and the Maiden”
Auf dem Wasser zu Singen, D. 774
Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960, Andante sostenuto