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Beeson: Lizzie Borden / Coppola, Cambridge Festival Orchestra

Release Date: 09/03/2013 
Label:  Video Artists International   Catalog #: 4563  
Composer:  Jack Beeson
Performer:  Richard KrauseAnne ElgarEllen FaullBrenda Lewis,   ... 
Conductor:  Anton Coppola
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Festival OrchestraSt. Gabriel Boys' Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 52 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Subheaded “A Family Portrait in Three Acts,” Jack Beeson’s Lizzie Borden is one of the masterpieces of American opera. Making use of aspects of the historical Borden case, Beeson and librettist Kenward Elmslie (working from a scenario by Richard Plant) sought, in the composer’s words, “to explain why our Lizzie, given the frustration of her strong passions,” was led to murder her father and step-mother (the real-life Lizzie was acquitted of the charges, though speculation still runs high more than a century later). The opera’s world premiere was given by The New York City Opera in 1965, and this gripping television production (produced later the same year) features the magnificent original cast and conductor. At the time of the initial Read more telecast, The New York Times wrote that Lizzie Borden “is a compelling piece of musical theatre, that...gains presence from the intimacy of TV.... Unquestionably worth seeing.”

Black & White, 112 minutes, 4:3, All regions
LIZZIE BORDEN: A Family Portrait in Three Acts
Music by Jack Beeson (1921-2010)
Libretto by Kenward Elmslie, after a scenario by Richard Plant

Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Andrew Borden: Brenda Lewis
Abigail (“Abbie”) Borden, the step-mother: Ellen Faull
Margret Borden, the younger sister: Anne Elgar
Andrew Borden, the father: Herbert Beattie
Captain Jason MacFarlane: Richard Fredricks
Reverend Harrington: Richard Krause

The Cambridge Festival Orchestra
The Saint Gabriel Boys Choir
Anton Coppola, conductor and music director
(Produced in 1965)

R E V I E W: 3740510.az_BEESON_Lizzie_Borden_Anton.html

BEESON Lizzie Borden Anton Coppola, cond; Brenda Lewis (Lizzie); Anne Elgar (Margret); Ellen Faull (Abigail); Herbert Beattie (Andrew); Richard Fredricks (Captain Jason MacFarlane); St. Gabriel Boys Ch; Cambridge Festival O VAI 4563, black and white (DVD: 112:00)

The (much-lamented) New York City Opera gave the premiere of Lizzie Borden on March 25, 1965; Desto recorded the original production (now on CRI 694), and in December WNET imported cast and conductor, but not orchestra and chorus, to Boston to make this TV film, which was broadcast in 1967. All the attention was because this is exciting stuff. Jack Beeson’s music seldom pleased the avant garde in his time, but he had an extraordinary ability to turn a good story into a dramatic opera, fleshing out characters and realizing their interactions. This is his most dramatic opera, if not his most melodic. A taut, potent Overture comes as close as Beeson ever would to atonality; it is hinted at in Lizzie’s extended mad scene and reprised in an act III Interlude after the deeds have been done.

The opera’s full title is Lizzie Borden: A Family Portrait, and what a family it is! The tale is too well known to need rehashing. In the opera as in real life, Lizzie is acquitted of the murders but lives on as an outcast, cleared in court but not in the public mind. Brenda Lewis is a potent Lizzie, with a convincing mad scene. Anne Elgar chirps prettily as the younger sister. Abigail. Their conniving, self-centered stepmother is a villainess of the piece, but Ellen Faull sings so beautifully that it’s hard to dislike her. Herbert Beattie is frightening as the dominating miser who makes everyone’s life miserable—except Abigail, who can wrap him around her little finger. Richard Fredricks is a solid Captain McFarlane; he and Margret contribute opera’s obligatory love interest, complicated by Lizzie’s secret love for him, and he furthers the plot by having a violent argument with Andrew, the girls’ father. Tensions build inexorably to the great climax (we stay in the parlor as Lizzie races upstairs to do the deed, grabbing an axe along the way). Beeson’s music is harsh and strong, as the story demands, relaxing into melody for the occasional inner monologue and a few ensembles—or when Abigail wants something from her husband.

This video production has its own historical interest. Made in early days of television technology, almost all of it is live, not lip-synched, in a series of first takes. The major exception is Lizzie’s mad scene, in which she is busy thrashing about. A recent talk by Maestro Coppola (all but one of the original cast are still with us) revealed that he was conducting the orchestra downstairs while the singing, acting, and filming was going on upstairs, each following the other via TV. One would never have guessed as much, for the production is seamless. Coppola much prefers this film to the dry Desto recording—one notes that Desto omitted his name from the cover of its LP box.

There has since been another televised NYC Opera production, in 1999, led by George Manahan. It too was a blockbuster, a more “operatic” performance on a semi-abstract stage setting (compared to the realistic house interiors of this VAI video). Abigail is equally well sung, by Lauren Flanagan, whose strong acting makes Abigail vicious instead of just silly. The VAI video is followed by several panels which bring us the historical Borden family and Lizzie’s trial; a photograph shows that both operatic Lizzies closely resemble her. VAI provides English subtitles if desired; the 4:3 black and white picture is clean, the monaural sound clear. We happily watch old films noir in b&w, and this film is as noir as they come; the lack of color suits the story so well that the full-color televised performance seems all wrong.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Lizzie Borden by Jack Beeson
Performer:  Richard Krause (Tenor), Anne Elgar (Soprano), Ellen Faull (Soprano),
Brenda Lewis (Mezzo Soprano), Herbert Beattie (Bass), Richard Fredericks (Baritone)
Conductor:  Anton Coppola
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Festival Orchestra,  St. Gabriel Boys' Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1965; New York, USA 
Language: English 

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