From Development server
7 June 2010

Jack Beeson, 88, American Composer Who Penned Operatic Adaptation of Lizzie Borden, Has Died 


jack beeson lg 6610  
Beeson, in costume as The Husband for the
1970 NET world-premiere telecast of his
opera My Heart's in the Highlands
Muncie, IN, July 15, 1921 — New York, NY, June 6, 2010

An active and prolific composer of classical music in a variety of forms, Beeson studied at the Eastman School, where he completed bachelor's and master's degrees and later worked privately in Manhattan with Béla Bartók. In 1945, Beeson joined the faculty at Columbia University, where he was also accompanist and coach for the school's prestigious opera workshop; he remained Columbia's MacDowell Professor Emeritus of Music at the time of his death.

Beeson's ten operas — all of them engaging and highly theatrical — include the one-act Hello Out There, based on the play by William Saroyan and first produced at Columbia's Brander Matthews Theater in 1954; The Sweet Bye and Bye, given its premiere by Juilliard Opera Theater in 1957; and Lizzie Borden, commissioned by the Ford Foundation for New York City Opera, where it received its world premiere in 1965, with Anton Coppola pacing Brenda Lewis (Lizzie) and Ellen Faull (Abigail) in a much-admired production directed by Nikos Psacharopoulos. Lizzie Borden is undoubtedly Beeson's best-known work for the opera stage, thanks to its sensational subject — Kenward Elmslie's libretto is based on the true-life story of a Massachusetts woman accused of axe-murdering her father and stepmother in 1892 — and its 1967 national telecast, featuring the principals from the NYCO premiere. A Lizzie Borden staging by Rhoda Levine, created for Glimmerglass Opera in 1996 and later presented at NYCO, was telecast by Live from Lincoln Center in 1999, with Phyllis Pancella and Lauren Flanigan as Lizzie and Abigail.

After the TV success of Lizzie Borden, Beeson was asked to create an opera for television; his My Heart's in the Highlands, for which Beeson did his own libretto based on a Saroyan play, had its premiere on National Educational Television in March 1970, with the composer playing the small part of the Husband. In 1975, Beeson's Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines — the composer's first collaboration of several with librettist Sheldon Harnick — had its world premiere at Lyric Opera of Kansas City; the original cast recording of Captain Jinks was released on CD for the first time a few months before Beeson's death. Among Beeson's other collaborations with Harnick were Dr. Heidegger's Fountain of Youth (1978) and Cyrano (1994); Beeson provided his own librettos for his operas Sorry, Wrong Number (1999) and Practice in the Art of Elocution (1999). spacer  

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