Reviving Regina

BY STEPHEN LORD

Regina is a piece I have known a long time. I was the chorus master and repetiteur for one of its first big revivals in 1980 at the Houston Grand Opera with an all-star cast. Subsequently, while Music Director for Boston Lyric Opera, I programmed it in our 1990–91 season. For that production, James Robinson served as assistant director to the talented stage director, Rosalind Elias, who was also a legendary singer. Both Jim and I have a great fondness for this opera. Each of those productions used what came to be the “standard” version of the opera, recorded many years before at the time of the New York City Opera’s 1958 revival. This version removed what some might consider “operatic” elements and went for the drama in real time, not suspended time.

But now, in preparing for the piece, I decided we should try something based more on the Scottish Opera version created just after the Boston production. There is restored music, some of which we have used, and restored scenes. We are removing some of the underscoring (music played under dialogue), as we found it unnecessary to the drama and it requires the singers to speak over the orchestra, which is often distracting. We have, however, also added some underscoring from the Scottish Opera version in the places where it actually helps emphasize the drama of the spoken word.

There are, given the piece’s setting in turn-of-the-century Alabama, a few moments in the dialogue that would appear insensitive to today’s audiences because of their outdated language about race. The only sung example is the song “Chinkypin,” which we have decided not to include. As we have combined aspects of the original score and the Scottish Opera version, we have altered very small sections of the dialogue in such a way as to preserve the broader merits of this wonderful opera.

Photo: Composer Marc Blitzstein, 1943