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Blitzstein's 'Regina' at Maryland Opera Studio

Blitzstein, Regina, Maryland Opera Studio (photo by Geoff Sheil)

This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

Marc Blitzstein's Regina is one of those great American operas that one hears almost never. The last production written about here was given at the Bard Festival over a decade ago. Maryland Opera Studio is mounting the work in a full production this month, seen on Friday night at the Clarice Smith Center in College Park. Although the work was premiered at a theater on Broadway, the composer revised it considerably a few years later as more of an "opera" than a "musical," when it had greater success. It is an amalgamation of jazz, music theater, and opera, in a way much more palatable than Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars, for example. Blitzstein was an outsider in many ways -- uncloseted homosexual, committed Communist, murder victim -- but had perhaps unexpected high art aspirations for his music, even in "low" genres. Although spoken dialogue switches easily with sung lines, it is accompanied by continuous music in a wide range of styles.

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Blitzstein, Regina, K. Ciesinski, S. Ramey, Scottish Opera Orchestra and Chorus, J. Mauceri
(London, 1992)
Regina is an adaptation of Lillian Hellman's 1939 play The Little Foxes, which along with her 1946 prequel play Another Part of the Forest tells a story based on Hellman's wealthy, Jewish extended family in the small town of Demopolis, Alabama, where there was a synagogue established prior to the Civil War. The title character is a scheming manipulator, played so memorably by Bette Davis on screen, who betrays the husband forced upon her by her domineering father, as well as her two brothers, who control all the family's fortune. Mezzo-soprano Louisa Waycott stood out from the rest of the cast for her vocal force and sneering presence as Regina, the only singer who could be heard clearly from all parts of the stage. Even at the top of the curving staircase in Diana Chun's striking set, she could be heard in those monotone recitatives of the second act, where she spits down vitriol on the servants and other characters.

Bass Daren Jackson had a fine sound as Horace Giddens, Regina's estranged husband, and soprano Chelsea Davidson was a pleasing Alexandra, Regina's daughter. As the flighty, boozy, tragic figure of Birdie, Regina's sister-in-law, soprano Laynee Dell Woodward nailed the coloratura pyrotechnics but her tone paled somewhat in places, a perhaps appropriate facet of her well-acted characterization of the role. Baritone Anthony Eversole's Oscar was the stronger of the two conniving brothers, with Mark Wanich's Ben often covered by the orchestra. Tenor Alec Feiss was a lightweight, dim-witted Leo, Regina's nephew who steals the bonds for the cotton mill investment plan, and Alexandra Christoforakis (Addie) had her best moment in the charming Rain Quartet that opens Act III. Young conductor Craig Kier kept the score together, although balances between stage and pit were not always optimal, with the UMD Symphony Orchestra, also made up of students in the University of Maryland School of Music, struggling at times in terms of rhythmic ensemble and intonation. The production directed by Nick Olcott is a winner, with peppy period choreography by Adriane Fang for the dance scenes.

This production runs through April 16, at Maryland Opera Studio.

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