Blitzstein: Regina / Krachmalnick, Lewis, Carron, Brice, Hecht

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Opera News Review:

Like so many musical works that originated on the Broadway stage, Regina exists in several different versions. Basing his score and libretto on Lillian Hellman’s familiar play The Little Foxes, composer— librettist Marc Blitzstein created a hothouse musical melodrama that eventually, after many changes, found a home in the opera house. But with its tuneful, easily accessible score, its dance, jazz and folk elements and its abundance of spoken dial ogue, Regina resists easy classification, occupying a middle ground between opera and musical theater.
Regina has been treated best by New York City Opera, where two successful revivals, using the original 1949 Broadway sets, took place during the 1950s. This classic recording was made during the second of these revivals, in 1958. Although the version of the score used here differs substantially from both the Broadway original and the more complete recording conducted by John Mauceri in 1992, this remains an uncommonly satisfying souvenir of a great, neglected American opera. Blitzstein was very much a man of the theater, and the vibrancy of this work and this performance leap out at the listener across six decades.
Dramatic soprano Brenda Lewis had created the key supporting role of Birdie when Regina had its premiere on Broadway in 1949; at City Opera she assumed the title role and made it her own. She wields her gutsy, multi-hued voice to stunning effect, and she stints not one bit on delivering this character’s full quotient of vileness. Frequently descending into nasty chest tones and leaping up into blazing high notes, she creates a vocal aura that is rarely pretty yet always exciting. Bette Davis used the subtlety of screen technique to make her own Regina Giddens so effective; Lewis knew that in this vastly different arena she needed to pull out her full operatic arsenal. She delivers a thrilling performance.
Elizabeth Carron is a touching Birdie; she makes a fine, poignant moment of her “Lionnet, Lionnet” aria. As Regina’s daughter Zan, Helen Strine is clearly in vocal trouble. Although she acts the role well, her top is strident and beset by a wiry wobble, which threatens to destroy the sublime “Listen to the Rain” quartet. Carol Brice, as the maidservant Addie, brandishes the kind of authentic contralto sound we don’t hear much anymore. George Irving and Emile Renan etch sharp characterizations as Benjamin and Oscar Hubbard; so does Loren Driscoll as Oscar’s whiny son, Leo. Joshua Hecht is moving as the doomed Horace Giddens, though he drops the southern accent and reverts to pretentious mid-twentieth-century operatic diction during his sung passages.
Samuel Krachmalnick takes a very spirited approach to conducting the New York City Opera Orchestra and Chorus. This disc’s accompanying booklet contains brief informative articles by Frank Loesser, Lillian Hellman and Leonard Bernstein; what it lacks is Blitzstein’s libretto. That’s a shame, because Blitzstein did not simply set Hellman’s play to music — he was a poet who adapted it into a true libretto.

Eric Myers, Opera News

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SONY72912

  • UPC: 886977291227

  • Label: Sony

  • Composer: Marc Blitzstein

  • Conductor: Samuel Krachmalnick

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: New York City Opera Chorus, New York City Opera Orchestra

  • Performer: Andrew Frierson, Brenda Lewis, Carol Brice, Elizabeth Carron, Emile Renan, Ernest Mcchesney, George Irving, Helen Strine, Joshua Hecht, Loren Driscoll


  1. Regina

    Composer: Marc Blitzstein

    Ensemble: New York City Opera Chorus, New York City Opera Orchestra

    Performer: Carol Brice (Mezzo Soprano), Elizabeth Carron (Soprano), Loren Driscoll (Tenor), Andrew Frierson (Baritone), Joshua Hecht (Bass), George Irving (Baritone), Brenda Lewis (Soprano), Ernest Mcchesney (Tenor), Emile Renan (Baritone), Helen Strine (Soprano)

    Conductor: Samuel Krachmalnick