An opera by Marc Blitzstein, to his own libretto based on the play The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman. Regina premiered on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre in New York on October 31, 1949 conducted by Maurice Abravanel and directed by Bobby Lewis. Jane Pickens, formerly of the pop trio the Pickens Sisters, played Regina, and Brenda Lewis was Birdie. The first production was poorly reviewed, and closed after 56 performances.
Hellman gave Blitzstein a great deal of input into the construction of the opera, most of it vetoing any departures from her own dramatic structure. Blitzstein planned an elaborate choral prologue, but Hellman convinced him to shorten and finally jettison it entirely. Before the premiere, producer Cheryl Crawford insisted on still further cuts to the opera, asking Blitzstein to reduce the work from three acts to do. He did so, cutting fifteen minutes of music out of the party scene.
In 1953, the City Centre Opera produced a different version of the opera with greatly expanded orchestration, giving the work a more "operatic" rather than "Broadway" sound. Bobby Lewis directed again, using the same sets. Brenda Lewis, Birdie in the 1949 cast, now took the lead as Regina.
The 1953 production restored the party scene but cut other material. This production was a success, leading the company to revive the work again in 1958, with still more cuts. The 1958 version completely eliminated the onstage Dixieland band that had been an essential part of Blitzstein's plan for the work.
The 1958 version, which was Hellman's favorite although furthest from the composer's intentions, was recorded. Another recording was made in 1992 by John Mauceri and the Scottish Opera Orchestra, with Katherine Ciesinski and Samuel Ramey. The 1992 recording included nearly all the music written for the opera. Both recordings are presently out of print.
Yet another different version of the opera was mounted by the Chicago Lyric Opera in 2003, with much music restored but with many scenes involving the black servants deleted, as the well-intentioned portrayals of black characters had come to seem sentimental and patronizing. This last production also added lines of dialogue from Hellman's play to clarify the story.
Leonard Bernstein described Regina's relationship to The Little Foxes as "coating the wormwood with sugar, and scenting with magnolia blossoms the cursed house."
Setting: the Deep South in the year 1900
Regina Giddens schemes with her brothers Ben and Oscar for money and power. When her crippled husband Horace opposes her plans, Regina denies him his heart medication and he dies of a heart attack. Their daughter Alexandra, realizing the true cause of Horace's death, finds the strength to leave her mother. Having double-crossed her brothers as well, Regina is left wealthy but alone.