The University of Maryland Opera Studio presents Blitzstein’s Regina for four performances April 8 through 16.
Regina opened on Broadway in 1949,at a time when composers sought to create works which openly challenged the boundaries between opera and musical theater. Blitzstein especially defied conventional genre categories with his dramatic works. The Cradle Will Rock arguably set the stage for the opera-on-Broadway trend, later followed by Menotti, Weill, Bernstein and others. Bernstein, Blitzstein’s colleague and close friend, regarded Regina as Blitzstein’s first truly successful attempt to create a work that satisfied the demands of both opera and Broadway audiences, calling it “a kind of apex, a summation of what Blitzstein has been trying to do.”
Maryland Opera Studio’s production also seeks to bridge the divide between opera and theater, and will bring together a cross-disciplinary team of students from the UMD School of Music and School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, including singers, jazz musicians and theatre design majors. From lighting and set design to costume creation and choreography, students involved in Regina will gain hands-on experience in every element of opera production and performance. As part of MOS’s “Opera Resonates!” series, the April 10 performance will be preceded by a discussion titled “Regina: Is It All Black and White?” exploring the opera’s treatment of racial and social issues still relevant today.
UMD received a Kurt Weill Foundation grant for university performance, one of four KWF grants awarded this year for performances of Blitzstein’s works.
Event listing on the performance calendar.
Press release from the University of Maryland.
Essential Renditions by Armstrong and Darin Honored
The Library of Congress announced the 2015 additions to the National Recording Registry. High on the list for 2015 are covers of “Mack the Knife” by Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin, who between them did more than anyone to make the song one of the top hits of the 20th century. Established in 2000 under the National Recording Preservation Act, the Registry honors recordings recognized for their cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s aural legacy. The Library of Congress preserves for posterity each recording named to the list. The Registry, according to Acting Librarian David S. Mao, “helps safeguard the record of what we’ve done and who we are.”
“Mack the Knife” started life in 1928 as “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer,” the opening number in The Threepenny Opera. The song did not attract much attention in the U.S. until Marc Blitzstein’s English adaptation of the show opened off-Broadway in 1954 and ran for 2,707 performances, setting the record at that time for longest-running musical. Armstrong’s recording, completed in a single evening in September 1955, propelled the number into the pop pantheon and added an enduring twist to Blitzstein’s lyric: Lotte Lenya’s presence in the studio during the session (see photo at right) prompted a shout-out from Satchmo, who added her name to Mack’s conquests.
(Lenya contributed vocals to a different recording made during the same session.) Darin’s version topped the charts in 1959 and became his signature number. “Mack the Knife” has been recorded hundreds of times, but Armstrong and Darin made it an international hit. Lenya remarked, “A taxi driver whistling his tunes would have pleased [Kurt] more than winning the Pulitzer Prize.” Adding to that honor, inclusion in the registry seals Weill’s and Blitzstein’s permanent place in our nation’s aural legacy.
On a related note, this is not the first entry in the Registry for Blitzstein. The original cast recording of The Cradle Will Rock was named in 2002.
Read the announcement from the Library of Congress.
Marc Blitzstein receives some well-deserved attention this year with several notable performances scheduled throughout 2016, heralding a year of renewed interest in this often overlooked composer. Two productions of Regina take the stage in the first half of the year: Bronx Opera mounted two performances, January 16 & 17 at Lehman College (Bronx, NY); four performances will follow at the University of Maryland, College Park, April 8-16. On May 28, Curious Flights Symphony Orchestra and Festival Chorus in San Francisco will give the West Coast Premiere of The Airborne Symphony, with Alasdair Neale conducting. In the fall of 2016, Dutch radio network ConcertZender will broadcast a four-part series on Blitzstein’s life and works. All of the above projects received funding through the Kurt Weill Foundation’s Grant Program, marking the first year that the KWF has awarded funding for Blitzstein-related projects, which became eligible under its grant program in 2013.
In addition to the grant recipients, two other Blitzstein performances are on the calendar for 2016: Another production of Regina will appear onstage at Anderson University (Anderson, IN) February 19 through 21. Even Germany will get into the act when the annual Kurt Weill Fest Dessau offers a program featuring songs by Blitzstein and Weill on 28 February, performed by Alen Hodzovic and Rebecca Jo Loeb, with pianist James Holmes. Meanwhile, Blitzstein’s adaptation of Threepenny Opera remains an audience favorite.