DVD0702. Lizzie Borden (Jack Beeson), w.Coppola Cond.Brenda Lewis, Ellen Faull, Anne Elgar, Herbert Beattie, Richard Fredericks, Richard Krause. VAI DVD 4563, telecast 1965. - 089948456391
"This performance of the Jack Beeson/Kenward Elmslie opera LIZZIE BORDEN, inspired by real life events, captures the landmark 1965 television performance of the show by the New York City Opera, featuring the original cast and conductor."
- Cammila Collar, Rovi
“Brenda Lewis, who sang for a decade with the Metropolitan Opera and for two decades with the New York City Opera, was known for interpreting the music of living American composers. She originated two signal roles in contemporary opera: the alcoholic Birdie Hubbard in REGINA, Marc Blitzstein’s adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s drama THE LITTLE FOXES, and the title role in LIZZIE BORDEN, by Jack Beeson.
At the Met, Ms. Lewis sang in 38 regular performances from 1952 to 1965. At City Opera, where she appeared from 1945 onward, she sang parts including Santuzza in Mascagni’s CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA and the title roles in Bizet’s CARMEN and Richard Strauss’ SALOME. Her Broadway credits include THE GIRL IN PINK TIGHTS (1954), by Jerome Chodorov, Joseph Fields and Leo Robin to the music of Sigmund Romberg, and CAFE CROWN (1964), opposite Theodore Bikel and Sam Levene. Ms. Lewis’s diverse career was made possible partly because she was able to learn a new role in a matter of days. Although she did not begin to take voice lessons until she was in college, she proved so adept that she made her professional début less than two years later.
But for all her success in the opera house, Ms. Lewis said, it was musical theater she loved best. ‘Broadway is what I really bide my time for’, she told THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1953. ‘I love acting just as much as I do singing’. It was on Broadway that she first played Birdie Hubbard, and, as Ms. Lewis liked to say, the role was foreordained: She was originally named Birdie. Before completing her studies, she took up a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. There, she embarked on serious vocal study for the first time, studying with Marion Freschl, who over the years also taught Marian Anderson and Shirley Verrett. In 1941, while still at Curtis, she landed her first major professional role, with the Philadelphia Opera. Under the stage name Brenda Lewis, she sang the Marschallin in Richard Strauss’ DER ROSENKAVALIER. She had seen her first grand opera - by coincidence, DER ROSENKAVALIER, with Lotte Lehmann as the Marschallin - only two years before.
She sang as a guest artist with the San Francisco Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, the Vienna Volksoper, the Zürich Opera and other companies. After retiring from the stage, she taught at the Hartt School, the conservatory of the University of Hartford. She also produced and directed productions of the New Haven Opera Theater.
In an interview with OPERA NEWS in 1999, Ms. Lewis recalled her Met début, an occasion so auspicious that for the first time in her career she chose - briefly - to take the stage wearing her contact lenses. ‘I didn’t want to just walk into something’, she explained, though it was a decision she soon came to regret.”
‘At the end of the first act, I realized I couldn’t stand it’, Ms. Lewis continued. I was petrified when I walked out there and saw that hall - and those lights, and that orchestra, and that son of a bitch with the baton [Erede]! I knew I could not get through the rest of the night with my contacts in’. She removed them the moment she came offstage and never wore them in performance again.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 16 Sept., 2017
“Brenda Lewis made her début with the Metropolitan Opera Company in 1952 in the role of Musetta in LA BOHÈME, and followed it very shortly thereafter with Rosalinde in DIE FLEDERMAUS. It was in these roles that she participated in the first two full-scale television broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera on CBS's Omnibus program in February 1953. Over the next ten years Lewis appeared at the Met as Rosalinde in DIE FLEDERMAUS, Donna Elvira in DON GIOVANNI, Venus in TANNHÄUSER, Marie in WOZZECK, Marina in BORIS GODUNOV, Carmen, Salome, and Vanessa. She continued to sing with City Opera as well, taking on the central role of REGINA in the 1953 and 1958 revivals of the Blitzstein opera, when the production was recorded for Columbia. But perhaps Brenda Lewis’ most remarkable achievements during this period took place in Vienna, Austria. In 1956 she was engaged at the Volksoper to star in the first gala full-scale European production of a Broadway show, Cole Porter’s KISS ME, KATE. It was such a sensational success that she was asked to return the following season in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, in the Ethel Merman role. She was subsequently invited to sing both these roles at the Zurich Opera in Switzerland, as well as Carmen and Salome. In 1965 Jack Beeson’s LIZZIE BORDEN, with Lewis in the title role, had its world premiere at the New York City Opera; it was filmed by WGBH in Boston and broadcast nationally on Public Television.
As an opera singer, Ellen Faull sang throughout the United States and occasionally in Europe, but she was primarily associated with New York City Opera. She made her début there in 1947 as Donna Anna in the company's first production of DON GIOVANNI and continued to sing leading rôles with the company until 1978. Her final performance there was as Abigail in Jack Beeson's LIZZIE BORDEN, a rôle she had created in the opera's world première in 1965. As a recitalist, Faull was a champion of contemporary American composers. Ned Rorem once described her voice as ‘a cloud of peridot chiffon’, and she sang in the world premières of several of his works, including the 1957 premiere of ‘The Poet's Requiem’ for soprano, chorus and orchestra.
Following her retirement from the stage, she taught singing for many years at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School. She also had a voice studio in the apartment on Central Park West in New York City which she shared with her husband, Maurice Gordon, a psychiatrist who died in 1987. When she moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1990 to be near her daughter, she taught singing both privately and at Portland State University's Bel Canto Northwest Vocal Institute, a summer program which she founded in 1992 with Ruth Dobson, a former voice professor at Portland State. She continued to teach singers at her home in Camas, Washington right up until her death in 2008 at the age of 90. Among her many students were Dawn Upshaw, Gianna Rolandi, Audra McDonald, Ashley Putnam, and Veronica Villarroel.”
- Ned Ludd