BEESON: Lizzie Borden
Brenda Lewis (Elizabeth "Lizzie" Borden). Ellen Faull (Abigail "Abbie"). Ane Elgar (Margaet Borden). Herbert Beatie (Andrew Borden). Richard Fredericks (Capain Jason). Richard Krause (Reverend Harrington). Cambridge Festival Orchestra/Saint Gabriel Boys Choir/Anton Coppola, cond.

STRAUSS: Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24. MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde.
Paul Groves, tenor; thomas Hampson, baritone; Suisse Romande Orch/Neemi Järvi, cond.

VERDI: Un ballo en maschera
Massimliano Pisapia (Riccardo). Franco Vassallo (Renato). Chiara Taigi (Amelia). Anna Maria Chiuri (Ulrica). Eun Yee You (Oscar). Herman Wallén (Silvano). Tuomas Pursio (Samuel). Metodie Bujor (Tom). Leipzig Ballet and Chorus/Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch/Riccardo Chailly, cond.

Lizzie Bordon was a prominent figure on America's tabloid scene in 1892 when she murdered both her father and step-mother. She lived her entire life in Fall River, Massachusetts, with her father, Andrew, and his second wife, Abbie. Both were overbearing, insensitive and demanding, and wished to keep her at home. Lizzie's dreams were constantly shattered, and finally she could stand no more, particularly ularly when she saw her sister's happiness with her forthcoming marriage to the Captain. Lizzie then killed both parents wit an axe.. A highly publicized trial took place after which she was acquitted and continued to live in Fall River, always under suspicion—a truly tragic figure destined to sadness. American composer Jack Beeson (1921-2010) focused on opera. Lizzie Bordon, dating from 1965, was his fourth (six more would follow, including Sorry, Wrong Number). His score for Lizzie is effective if unmemorable, and he chooses not to depict the murders and their sounds on stage (as Strauss did in Elektra). The leading role is a showcase for a dramatic singer, well met in this case by American soprano Brenda Lewis (b. Harrisburg, Pa. 1921). Lewis was a versatile artist who was particularly known for her performances of Carmen and Salome . She also premiered new American operas including two by Marc Blitzstein who wrote his Regina for her). Lewis also starred in numerous Broadway and operetta productions. A superb actress, her voice is controlled and sure—it is a pleasure to watch her perform, and this is your only DVD opportunity to do so. It is unfortunate Lewis did not make more recordings; only two exist, Song of Norway and Regina. We are fortunate to have this performance of Lizzie Borden, a television production from 1965 broadcast two years later. Video and audio are excellent for the time. An important issue in the realm of American opera!

For his inaugural concert as music director of the Suisse Romande Orchestra , Neemi Järvi chose this Strauss-Mahler program, September 12, 2012. The venue was Geneva's Victoria Hall, and it seemed to be a gala occasion. The famous orchestra was in top form and played beautifully, with warmth as well as fire when needed. The popular conductor recorded all of Straus's symphonic poems (other works as well) about a qarter-century ago for Chandos with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, a quality if not definitive series. This new performance of Death and Transfiguration is rushed, one of the fasted ever recorded (less than 22 min—two minutes slower than Järvi's Scottish performance. Most performances are a least 24 minutes., This "transfiguration" is an ineffective rush to heaven. Mahler's massive song cycle is beautifully played by the orchestra. Järvi has chosen to use the version for baritone rather than contralto, a choice preferred by a number of conductors including Bernstein, who in 1966 recorded it in Vienna with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.This is Thomas Hampson's third recording of this music; the first was in 1995 with Sir Simon Rattle in Birmingham, the second in 2007 as part of Michael Tilson Thomas's Mahler cycle in San Francisco. Hampson is a superb artist, and still has remarkable vocal command. American tenor Paul Groves (b. 1964 in Louisiana) has won some major awards. He won the Metropolitan Opera National Council award in 1981, and in 1995, the Richard Tucker Award. Groves has appeared in a wide repertory ranging from Gluck and Mozart to Stravinsky and Berg. No question he is a fine artist, but he doesn't quite have what it takes for that fiercely demanding drinking song that opens Das Lied von der Erde. Although he stands in front of the orchestra, his sound is often rather distant. Audio and video on this new release are state-of-the-art—truly outstanding.

This site mentioned superb videos of Verdi's Un ballo en maschera, one with Aprile Millo and Luciano Pavarotti conducted by James Levine (REVIEW), the other with Josephine Barstow and Plácido Domingo with Sir Georg Solti on the podium (REVIEW). Now we have this new version taped in Leipzig November 23-26, 2005, with Riccardo Chailly conducting an opera that he obviously loves and undestands thoroughly. Sets are simple and reasonably effective, with a large hanging sharp-edged metal structure over center stage. Costumes are colorful, but bizarre, particularly that of Ulrica who is made to resemble a plucked porcupine, a costume mimicked by Oscar in the final act. Singing throughout is of high level, if not exceptional. Although in regent years soprano Chiara Taigi has appeared in many opera houses, particularly in works of Verdi, she is taxed by the role of Amelia, frequently slightly off-pitch and harsh. Anna Maria Chiuri makes much of the role of Ulrica, with Eun Yee You a sparkling Oscar. Massimiliano Pisapia as been snging Verdi and Puccini for various opera houses for about a decade, but the big Verdi sound isn't qute there. His collabortion with Taigi in the big love duet in Act II never catches fire. Video is outstanding, audio favors the voices. There is much of quality here, but this cannot match the best of other videos of this Verdi masterpiece. This issue is sold at an uncommonly low price.

R.E.B. (October 2013)