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Blitzstein, Marc: Regina
Act 2: Recitative and Aria, “Mr. Marshall’s such a polite man… Music, music, music” (Birdie)

Roger Pines, Dramaturg, Lyric Opera of Chicago
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Aria Talk8/1/2002

Editor's Note: Aria Talk focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
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Regina has become a known quantity on numerous major stages throughout the United States, and no one would look askance were you to use Birdie’s first solo for your English-language aria (you’d probably find her second aria too long for most auditions). She’s not for every singer — the characterization needs a sensitive, mature actress and the aria is vocally challenging as well. The piece makes an immensely touching impression, however, if it’s approached with true sincerity. In the opera, which takes place in turn-of-the-century Alabama, Birdie Hubbard presents a notable contrast with her sister-in-law, Regina Giddens. The latter is cold, ruthless and power hungry, whereas all the emotionally vulnerable Birdie longs for in life is a little affection and kindness (which her husband denies her).

When Regina invites William Marshall, a Chicago financier, to dinner, Birdie is entranced by his manners and the attention he pays to her. The evening brings back memories of her youth and the importance of music in her parents’ lives. She explains to Regina’s maid, Addie, “When someone is pleasant and nice to you, doesn’t it make you think of music, too?” Birdie’s opening lines are virtually sung speech and it helps to color the text with as much of a southern accent as you can manage (never exaggerated, however!). The tone of the aria proper is generally intimate — this is a gentle, sentimental woman, who clearly very much prefers her genteel past to her sad present. Midway in the aria, while explaining that she was singing inside herself as Mr. Marshall spoke with her, she indulges in some charming vocalizing, including staccato passages and a sustained trill. The aria’s ending — an octave leap to a long-held soft high B-flat, on “Music is like that” — tugs at the heartstrings.

Score: Hal Leonard
Recording: Sheri Greenawald in complete recording, London label (no longer available — look for it in second-hand shops); Elizabeth Carron in complete recording, Columbia label (also no longer available, but many libraries will have it).
Timing: 3:00
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