Brenton O’Hara playing Andrew Borden and Cera Finney as Lizzie Borden in the upcoming ECU Opera “Lizzie Borden” at the Fletcher Music Center on Monday, Oct. 22, 2012. (Aileen Devlin/The Daily Reflector)
By NATALIE SAYEWICH
Friday, October 26, 2012
More than a century after the trial of Lizzie Borden, the spirit of the woman accused of murdering her father and stepmother lives on, tormenting a select few East Carolina University students as they try to master the opera based on her story.
The production of “Lizzie Borden,” which opens Thursday at the A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall, could be the most ambitious task the ECU Opera Theater has taken on, and everyone involved is feeling at least a little pressure.
Director John Kramer didn’t set out to find the most challenging opera for this season’s performance, it just sort of happened that way.
“I always start first with the students at hand and who the strong soloists are and then I go from there,” he said. “This year, we had a really talented mezzo, bass-baritone, tenor and two sopranos and a baritone.”
What he came up with was the little-known opera by Jack Beeson about the murders that happened in 1892.
“To me it’s something I grew up with,” said Kramer of the Lizzie Borden story. “There was an Elizabeth Montgomery TV movie that was about Lizzie Borden. My parents took us on vacation to Massachusetts and we went to the Lizzie Borden house. It was the first American trial scandal. It was the O.J. Simpson trial of its time.”
The musical intricacies of the opera have proven to be as complex and stupefying as Borden’s life.
“Every time somebody at school asks, ‘how’s it going?’” Kramer said, “It’s like, ‘It’s killing all of us.’ It’s so hard for everybody.”
“I told the singers, ‘When you finish this project, you’ll know you can sing anything because there is nothing written on earth that is any harder than this. Everything else is going to be smooth sailing.’”
Two of the characters are double-cast. Lizzie Borden will be played by Cera Finney on Thursday and the following Sunday, Nov. 4, and Madeline Beitel will play the lead role on Nov. 2.
Anna-Parsons Charles plays Lizzie’s stepmother, Abigail, on Thursday and Nov. 4, while Kimberly Watson takes on the role Nov. 2. Brenton O’Hara plays Andrew Borden, Lizzie’s father; Jordan Winslow plays Lizzie’s sister, Margaret Borden; Scott Willis plays sea captain Jason MacFarlane; and Todd Barnhill plays Reverend Harrington.
Kramer raved about Finney’s rehearsals so far.
“It’s fiendishly difficult and Cera is perfect,” he said. “She’s this rock; this musical piece of granite. From the first rehearsal, she’s never made a mistake. The more we rehearse, the more she gets into the character and she keeps it together. It’s a miracle.”
But even Finney admits its not an easy task.
“This one is definitely harder than any other one I’ve done,” said the senior who is performing in her fifth opera at ECU. “I think Lizzie, herself, is very complex because she’s having to be the person that her family wants her to be, but she’s struggling inside with the things that she wants to be. I think that’s what ultimately drives her over the edge.”
The students, Kramer said, have been working on the piece since he cast the opera at the beginning of May. There have been a lot of struggles since then, but Kramer is confident that all of the hard work will be worth it.
“The students always pull it together and surprise you at the last moment,” said Kramer, now in his 14th year at ECU. “As stressful as the next two weeks are going to be for me, I always have to remind myself of that.
“They will be great, and I’ll consider it one of our biggest triumphs if this is successful.”
Contact Natalie Sayewich at 252-329-9596 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @natsaye.
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 1-2; 3 p.m. Nov. 4
Where: East Carolina University’s A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall
Cost: $14 General admission, $12 for faculty, staff and seniors, $5 for students
via The Daily Reflector.