Baltimore Opera Company stages memorable 'Regina'

August 03, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Like his operas and music theater pieces, Marc Blitzstein is more honored in memory than in performance. But without performances, creative artists -- no matter how important and influential -- begin an irreversible slide from obscurity into oblivion.

That's one reason to applaud the Baltimore Opera Company's terrific production at the Gordon Center of Blitzstein's "Regina," his 1949 operatic setting of Lillian Hellman's ferocious play, "The Little Foxes." Blitzstein (1905-1964) was one of the most remarkable voices in the history of American musical theater and "Regina" displays easy familiarity with Stravinskyan neo-classicism and Schoenbergian serialism, as well as popular forms, such as Negro spirituals, the blues, jazz and sentimental commercial ballads.

"Regina" surely influenced the musicals of Frank Loesser, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. Bernstein's debt is unmistakable: "Maria" (from "West Side Story") is a direct lift from the interlude between "Regina's" prologue and first act; and the ravishing quartet that opens Act III found its way into "Candide."

Whether one calls "Regina" opera or musical theater, we're not likely to hear a better performance in either genre this summer than this production. In the tour de force title role, Susan Marie Pierson coped often heroicallywith demands for high-flying operatic declamation and exhilarating recitative. As her daughter, Alexandra, Helen Todd had the voice to match the role's most challenging moments. Phyllis Burg's pretty lyric soprano was suited well to the laments of the alcoholic Birdie and as Addie, Kim Sylvain gave a beautifully controlled and touching rendering of Act II's lullaby.

LeRoy Lehr contributed some powerful singing as Horace. As the dastardly male members of Regina's clan, Joseph Corteggiano, David Neal and Christopher Petrucelli had edge and wit. Reginald Allen made a stalwart Cal and John Weber a fluid Marshall.

Except for early moments when the orchestra was too loud, Ronald Gretz conducted with authority and snap. Director John Lehmeyer helped endow the drama with the texture of life. Aaron Nather contributed a lovely set.

'Regina'

Where: Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for Performing Arts, Owings Mills

When: 8: 30 tonight; 6 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $10, $20 and $28

$ Call: (410) 727-6000

Pub Date: 8/03/96

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