2018 marks the centennial of the birth of Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein and Blitzstein shared an especially close friendship, and Bernstein served as one of Blitzstein’s most vocal proponents and champions.
In particular, Bernstein was a very vocal proponent for Blitzstein’s 1949 opera Regina, calling it “a kind of apex, a summation of what Blitzstein has been trying to do” (“Prelude to A Blitzstein Musical Adaptation,” published in the New York Times, October 30, 1949). On learning that the Broadway run had announced a premature closing, Bernstein and eleven other theater and music dignitaries took out a paid advertisement (“We Saw Regina” NY Times Dec 13, 1949) in that same publication in an attempt to rally support for the show and prolong its run.
In the late 1970s, Bernstein embarked on a project with conductor John Mauceri to attempt to “fix” the opera, by restoring material cut from the original score and even early drafts. Though Bernstein died before bringing the project to completion, Mauceri continued the work, and in 1991, premiered this expanded version at the Scottish Opera (resulting in the so-called “Scottish Opera Version”).
Drawing once again on the symbiosis the two composers shared, Howard Pollack writes, “Bernstein, who also admired the opera [Regina], virtually plagiarized a theme at the top of the dinner party scene for ‘Maria’ from West Side Story (1957)…” Pollack goes on to note other similarities, “with ‘Galop’ from Fancy Free (1944) looking ahead to Regina’s second act finale, which in turn anticipated ‘Auto-da-fe’ from Candide (1956).”
In the midst of this year’s Bernstein celebration, opportunities to hear Blitzstein’s music still abound, including a new production of Regina at Opera Theatre St. Louis, opening May 26. For a complete list of upcoming performances, visit the performance calendar.