Today in 1965, “Lizzie Borden” premiered at the New York City Opera. The new opera depicted a fictionalized version of a real-life event: a gruesome double axe-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden that occurred in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1892. Andrew Borden’s daughter, Lizzie, was accused of the murder of her father and stepmother. Many at the time thought her guilty. As a famous children’s rhyme of the period put it:
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Lizzie Borden was acquitted for the murders, which remained unsolved.
For the American composer Jack Beeson, Lizzie’s story resembled the ancient Greek legend of Elektra, already the subject of a famous opera by Richard Strauss. And like Strauss’s Elektra, Beeson’s Lizzie is the central character in an angst-ridden, Freudian tale of an evil stepmother and a dangerously dysfunctional family. |
Beeson says: “A lot of Lizzie Borden is very dissonant. It was even thought to be a twelve-tone piece back in 1965. There’s not a 12-tone row in it, but the agonized situation in much of Lizzie seemed to me to require that kind of music. Looking at reviews of a couple years ago compared to the ones in 1965, what’s astonishing is how the dissonance no longer seems upsetting.”
Music Played in Today's Program
Jack Beeson (b. 1921)Lizzie BordenNew York City Opera; Anton Coppola, cond.CRI 694