Thursday, 31 May 2018 13:48

Arts Capsule: Habits of highly defective people

Written by 
L-R: Ron Raines, Susanna Phillips, Susan Graham, James Morris L-R: Ron Raines, Susanna Phillips, Susan Graham, James Morris

In a New York Times article published the day before the 1949, premiere of Mark Blitzstein's opera Regina-a truly stunning production of which is playing at Opera Theatre-Leonard Bernstein observed that the principal characters were "ugly people engaged in ugly dealings with one another."

That is, to say the least, an understatement.

L-R: Susanna Phillips, Melody Wilson

Based on The Little Foxes, Lillian Hellman's blistering indictment of crony capitalism and unenlightened self-interest the story of Regina is set in Alabama in 1900 and centers on the Hubbard family, who are as nasty a collection of schemers as you are likely to find outside of the current White House. As the opera opens Ben and Oscar-the brains and bully of the clan, respectively-have, along with their sister Regina, negotiated a deal to make their mill business even more profitable than it already is and make themselves "big rich."

The only obstacle is Regina's ailing banker husband Horace Giddens. He has no interest in the deal, which will enrich the Hubbards at everyone else's expense. His refusal sets in motion a rash of scheming and backstabbing.

L-R: Susanna Phillips, Monica Dewey

Under the skilled direction of James Robinson the Opera Theatre cast turns in a collection of performances that can only be called flawless.

As Regina Mezzo Susan Graham is the quintessential iron fist in a velvet glove. She's a tragic figure, and Ms. Graham's powerfully sung performance lets you see every detail of her complex character.

Bass-baritone James Morris and baritone Ron Raines also bring powerful voices and impeccable acting skills to the roles of Ben and Oscar, respectively. And speaking of vocal power, Kirstopher Irmiter, as Horace, displays a lower register with kind of punch not always found in deeper voices.

Susan Graham, Kristopher Irmiter

Soprano Susanna Phillips gives a heartbreaking portrayal of Oscar's wife Birdie, driven to drink by Oscar's bullying and her son Leo's dishonesty. Mezzo Melody Wilson is Addie, Horace and Regina's black housekeeper and the moral anchor of the opera. It's a great part and she wears it well.

Soprano Monica Dewey shows us Alexandra's innocence and, in the end, her steely backbone as well, while tenor Michael Day is the epitome of casual corruption as Leo.

Maestro Stephen Lord and the Opera Theatre orchestra give a brilliant account of Blitzstein's endlessly inventive score. Mr. Robinson's decision to eliminate the blackouts from the Act I and II finales is puzzling, but otherwise his direction is clear, focused, and handles the large cast masterfully.

Regina is an American classic, and the Opera Theater production is a triumph in every respect. Don't miss it. Performances continue through June 24th at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus.

For the complete review, visit 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.