ALL ARTS Vault Selects

FULL EPISODE

Regina Resnik: New York Original

Interviews with notable musicians and archival footage trace the life of Bronx-born opera star Regina Resnik. She made her Met debut on one day's notice, was the first Jewish woman to sing in the German Bayreuth festival after World War II, and at 31, switched from soprano to mezzo-soprano. Considered one of the great Carmens of all time, her life embodied the same passion she brought to the role.

AIRED: May 14, 2019 | 1:02:33
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

[ "Habanera" plays ]

♪♪

♪L'amour est un oiseau rebelle ♪

♪Que nul ne peut apprivoiser ♪

♪Et c'est bien en vain qu'on l'appelle ♪

♪S'il lui convient de refuser ♪

Regina -- she was legendary,

and the range of roles she played was unparalleled.

♪ La, da, da, da

♪ La, da, da, da

Mehta: She was so wonderful to work with.

The "Carmen" performances, they were a joy for me

as a conductor.

[ Singing in French ]

♪♪

Stratas: Because she was fierce,

people were also afraid of her.

[ Singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

You don't need me to tell you what a great artist

Regina Resnik was.

Everybody knows. The world knows.

♪ Sir John Falstaff

Arroyo: Regina was one of the stars that I looked up to

as a human being, as a teacher, and as a damn good artist.

♪ Liaisons

♪ What's happened to them? ♪

♪ Liaisons today

I thought we were really lucky to have a great opera star.

♪Granada ♪

♪Tu tierra esta llena ♪

Regina had a 40-year history

of having sung with every great conductor in the world.

Cut, cut, cut!

Stratas: She directed operas and flourished

and went on in this whole other career,

where she became, like, a teacher of her craft.

[ Singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

This fairy-tale Cinderella story,

New York story, really...

It's a very courageous and audacious career.

♪♪

♪♪

Narrator: Pride and determination came to her naturally.

Regina's parents, Sam and Ruth Resnik,

were Ukrainian Jews who fled the Russian Revolution.

In 1919, braving all the odds, they set out for America

and arrived in the Bronx in 1921.

Regina was born the following year.

If Regina got her grit from both parents,

she inherited her voice from her father,

who sang Italian arias in Russian

to Regina and her younger brother, Jack.

Around age 10,

Regina Resnik volunteered to sing in the school assembly,

but there was one major problem.

At age 3, the little girl had had rheumatic fever,

leaving her with a heart murmur.

To avoid stares, she had an elevator pass in school.

She went to a special camp for cardiac children.

Only one doctor said, "Singing will make her strong.

Let her sing."

And she sang for 50 years.

♪♪

The 13-year-old soprano was discovered

at the Fresh Air Camp for cardiac children

by a wealthy philanthropist.

Hilde Wilestrock offered to sponsor Regina's voice lessons

with Rosalie Miller, a noted New York teacher.

She had a way of teaching and instilling a discipline

and even an audacity.

She made me believe I could do anything.

[ Singing operatically ]

♪♪

Here was this woman born

with the most extraordinary musical talent.

We had a piano in the house.

She would rehearse in the house.

Half the building would hear her all the time.

She had a lot of chutzpah and a lot of confidence.

She was going to be that definite woman

who had something to say and was going to say.

I don't think New York made her say it.

I think she made New York listen to her.

[Applause ]

Man:Regina -- Regina Resnik, dramatic soprano,

New York City.

And how old are you, Regina?

Regina:I'm 15. What selection?

"Voi Lo Sapete."

♪Voi lo sapete ♪

♪O mamma ♪

♪Prima d'andar soldato ♪

♪Turiddu aveva a Lola ♪

Narrator: The precocious Regina graduated high school

the same year, having skipped several grades.

She'd seen a film called "One Hundred Men and a Girl,"

featuring the singing starlet Deanna Durbin.

I remember coming home and saying to my mother

when I was still in high school,

"She's 15, and I'm 15, mama,

and she's a movie star, and I can sing like that."

And my mother said, "Do your homework,

and you'll make Hunter College."

Narrator: Her mother prevailed, and Resnik went to Hunter.

Jack: There, Gilbert and Sullivan was the major productionist.

She had the leading roles of all of them.

She had a half-hour radio show

that was broadcast from the world's fair.

Narrator: At graduation in January 1942,

Resnik was preparing to be a music teacher.

Regina: When I graduated from Hunter, I was 19,

and we were at war -- right after Pearl Harbor --

and in that year,

the most miraculous series of events took place,

and at the end of that year, which was December '42,

I stood on stage as Lady Macbeth.

Narrator: The fledging New Opera Company,

under the direction of maestro Fritz Busch,

was holding auditions for Giuseppe Verdi's "Macbeth."

The operatic version of Shakespeare's tragedy

would be performed at the Broadway Theatre

at West 53rd Street.

Resnik needed a job.

With three and a half octaves and no experience,

she auditioned for the chorus, or so she thought.

Instead, Busch asked Resnik to understudy

the daunting role of Lady Macbeth,

sung by Florence Kirk.

No one thought Resnik would go on,

but on December 4, 1942,

Kirk had a huge fight and walked out,

leaving it up to her 20-year-old understudy

to sing the matinee the next day.

Jack: We got the call. We lived in the Bronx, no car.

She was very excited and asked me to go

to escort her down to the opera house.

On the platform of the L, when the train came,

she got her heel caught between the train and the platform

and got some bleeding in her leg.

The only thing that came to mind

is to wrap it with a handkerchief.

We managed to bandage it and to get down there.

[ Regina singing operatically ]

Narrator: This is the aria the audience heard that afternoon.

She was 20 years old.

[ Singing continues ]

Jack: It was exciting for me.

She probably was overwhelmed.

She became a smash.

[ Singing continues ]

♪♪

♪♪

And she went on as though nothing had happened.

I was completely prepared that day.

I wasn't even nervous.

I only became nervous

three or four years later at the Met

when I realized how big this new swimming pool was.

Narrator: Resnik moved quickly into the big pool,

guided by the great émigré conductors

who had fled the Nazis.

Erich Kleiber, the renowned German maestro,

who had immigrated to Mexico City,

engaged the 20-year-old Resnik for her international debut,

the title role in "Fidelio," another enormous leading role.

Beethoven's only opera is about a woman

who disguises herself as a young man

in order to free her husband, a political prisoner.

It was wartime, January 1943.

Resnik, who had never been west of New Jersey,

was detained at the Mexican border as a spy.

The reason?

Her score of "Fidelio" was in German.

She was finally released,

but her score of "Fidelio" was never seen again.

At the Opéra National, Regina Resnik made her debut

as Fidelio.

[ Regina singing operatically in German ]

There's something telling about an American-Jewish girl

singing a German aria during World War II,

vowing justice against a murderous tyrant.

[ Singing continues ]

♪♪

It was a superb debut,

and Resnik would return to Mexico City

for the next two years.

[ Applause ]

♪♪

Fresh from her international success,

Resnik returned to New York.

For the next 2 1/2 years,

she lent her voice to the war effort and Jewish causes.

The New Opera Company folded.

It gave way, however, to the New York City Opera,

housed at the City Center on West 55th Street.

General director Laszlo Halasz

hired Resnik for the company's premiere season of 1944.

He showcased Resnik as Santuzza,

the heroine of the one-act tragedy "Cavalleria Rusticana."

Her performance elicited a rave in theNew York Times.

In the first weeks of the season,

Resnik sang Frasquita and later, Micaela,

both soprano roles in "Carmen,"

coached by the French conductor Jean Morel.

Regina: Jean Morel at the City Opera had said to me,

"You will never sing Micaela again,

so you really better start thinking about Carmen,"

and my ambitious teacher said to me, "Why not?"

[ Singing in French ]

♪Ma foi, je ne sais pas ♪

♪Peut-être jamais ♪

♪Peut-être demain ♪

Narrator: Resnik would become one of the greatest Carmens of history.

♪Mais pas aujourd'hui ♪

♪C'est certain ♪

But Bizet's famous gypsy would have to wait.

[ Regina singing operatically ]

Resnik had entered the Metropolitan Opera Auditions

of the Air,

broadcast live on the radio.

[ Singing continues ]

She sang the aria from Verdi's "Ernani" at the semifinals.

At the finals, she sang Lady Macbeth and won.

[ Singing ends ]

[ Applause ]

Regina: The Auditions of the Air were quite extraordinary

because, you see, attached to it was $1,000 and the Met contract.

Now, the Met contract was interesting.

$1,000 went a long way,

but the Met contract was $86 a week.

Narrator: For that fee, Resnik was to make her Met debut

as Santuzza on December 9, 1944,

and understudy everything from Brunhilde

to Carmen to Leonora in "Il Trovatore."

Five days before her debut,

she got a call from the Met general manager,

Edward Johnson.

Regina: Mr. Edward Johnson called me in and said,

"How well do you know Leonora in 'Trovatore'?"

I said, "I have it memorized, I think. I know it well."

He said, "You know it well to sing it on Wednesday?"

That evening, I went through the entire opera,

singing the most difficult aria of the fourth act

practically at midnight with the piano,

and next day, I was put into a costume.

Jack: It just was remarkable on how she knows all of these operas,

and she's 21 years old or whatever she was at the time.

She was equipped to sing all these roles,

never on a stage

or perhaps just the rehearsal prior to the opera.

Narrator: The reviews were phenomenal.

Resnik shared the war news with General Patton

and the Allied advance.

At Lion Luggage on West 17th Street,

the shop crowded around Sam Resnik,

pointing to his daughter's picture on the front page

of theNew York World-Telegram.

Three days later,

Regina Resnik sang her scheduled Met debut as Santuzza.

The week after that,

the title role in her first "Aida."

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Arroyo: The fact that she could sing those notes

and bring that intensity at that age

is already quite something.

Regina: I dedicated myself to everything I did in the opera house,

as did all the singers.

By this time, I was being called "Regina to the Rescue."

[ Laughter ]

Cross: Good afternoon, everyone.

This is Milton Cross inviting you to spend

another Saturday afternoon at the Metropolitan.

The opera you are to hear is Puccini's "Madame Butterfly."

The cast for today's performance

was to have been headed by Licia Albanese,

but Miss Albanese has fallen victim

to the present epidemic of cold,

and at this short notice, Regina Resnik,

one of the brilliant young American singers

for Metropolitan,

will sing the role of Madame Butterfly today.

Regina:♪ Un bel di, vedremo

♪Levarsi un fil di fumo ♪

I was putting out the fire again,

and this was my first Madame Butterfly in my life.

♪E poi la nave appare ♪

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

♪♪

Narrator: Her very first "Tosca"

was another substitution, opposite Jussi Bjorling,

Lawrence Tibbett.

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

[ Applause ]

♪♪

Resnik also substituted for Sieglinde in "Die Walkuere."

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

She costarred opposite the Wagnerian tenor

Lauritz Melchior.

[ Singing continues ]

♪♪

Although she was always jumping in,

Resnik was much more than an understudy.

Just three months after her debut,

Johnson assigned Resnik her first "Fidelio" at the Met,

conducted by Bruno Walter.

♪♪

Regina: ♪Or sai chi l'onore ♪

♪Rapire a me volse ♪

Narrator: There was Donna Anna in Mozart's "Don Giovanni"...

♪♪

...starring Ezio Pinza.

♪♪

And Alice Ford in Verdi's "Falstaff,"

opposite baritone Leonard Warren.

The conductor -- Fritz Reiner.

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

♪♪

And when Resnik was not at the Met,

crisscrossing the country to San Francisco,

where she began a 60-year love affair with that city,

Central City Opera, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans,

and recitals and concerts at all points in between.

Resnik had also started singing the title role in "Carmen."

All this varied repertoire and full-throttle schedule

before the age of 30.

I think it was just audacious.

It was daring.

I think I had a strong throat.

Narrator: She would need it.

Edward Johnson retired in 1950, much to Resnik's regret.

She found the new general manager, Rudolf Bing,

cold and unsympathetic.

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

Bing probably recognized Resnik's versatility

but lacked Johnson's nurturing touch.

As usual, she sang everything,

like Donna Elvira in "Don Giovanni"

and Venus in "Tannhauser"

but also high-soprano parts

like Rosalinda in "Die Fledermaus"

and Chrysothemis in "Elektra."

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

And even Musetta in "La Bohème".

[ Singing continues ]

♪♪

♪♪

Resnik continued to sing Santuzza

in "Cavalleria Rusticana,"

a tale of violent Sicilian passions.

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

Mario Del Monaco, the fiery Italian tenor,

had to control himself on stage with Resnik in April 1952.

His wife kept telling him, "Mario,non toccare.

Don't touch her. She's pregnant."

♪♪

Resnik and her first husband, attorney Harry Davis,

met in 1941,

but their courtship really began

after Harry returned from the war.

Harry proposed to Regina in Grant Park, Chicago,

in August 1945.

Before accepting, Resnik asked him,

did he really want to marry someone

who might be home only four months of the year?

He said, "Yes."

They were married a year later at City Hall, New York.

It seemed like the perfect match.

Resnik gave birth to her son in October 1952.

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

World War II had been over for seven years.

Germany's famed Bayreuth Festival,

legendary home to the operas of Richard Wagner,

was rebuilding under the artistic leadership

of the composer's grandson, Wieland Wagner.

From 1933 to 1945,

Bayreuth had been the musical shrine of Nazism

under the direction of Winifred Wagner,

the composer's daughter-in-law

and a fanatical supporter of Hitler.

After the war, the Allies banned Winifred

from running the festival but cleared her two sons,

Wolfgang and Wieland, of any major Nazi associations.

In the 1930s and early '40s, however,

the young Wieland had strong ties to Hitler,

which would surface only years later.

Rutenberg: Wieland had been protected by Hitler,

one of the 20 young men who were not to go into service.

In any case, Wieland was able

to push a lot of things under the carpet.

Narrator: The festival reopened with international cast,

including American sopranos Astrid Varnay and Eleanor Steber

and the Jewish bass-baritone George London,

born George Burnstein.

But since the war,

no Jewish woman had sung at Bayreuth.

Half a world away,

Regina Resnik had no idea she would be the first,

nor could she know that Bayreuth would change her life forever.

In 1952, she was invited to sing for Wieland Wagner to audition,

and she was pregnant at the time.

She didn't fly over to audition. She sent a tape.

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

Much to her surprise,

Wieland Wagner hired her in the role of Sieglinde.

I had great qualms about going.

I wanted very much to sing Sieglinde.

I wanted very much to sing it in Bayreuth.

I also had heard so much about Wieland Wagner

as a stage director.

My manager then, an Austrian Jew who had escaped to America,

said the following to me --

"If you're willing and able

to put on those blinders like a horse in a race

and just aim for the end goal

and not think about anything else,

you will have a phenomenal experience."

Narrator: As she wrote later, her heart was pounding

of the thought of leaving her 8-month-old son.

But with the support of her husband,

who called it a chance of a lifetime,

Resnik accepted.

Rutenberg: I think, given the political climate of Bayreuth

in those days,

whatever Regina might have known or not known,

same with George London --

and I think they didn't know quite as much as we know now --

they were very courageous souls to go there.

Regina: When I got there, the two Wagner brothers,

who had been sent to the Young Hitler Youth as boys,

were still... not being influenced,

but were still very much aware that their mother was around,

and she had been forbidden to participate

in the festival after the war,

and the brothers saw to it that she did not.

However, her presence was felt all around Bayreuth,

and I felt it, as well.

Nothing had really changed much,

except that the government had changed,

but everybody who had been there during the dark days

was still hanging around.

Narrator: If Nazi shadows hovered,

they were dispelled when Resnik was working.

She often quoted an ironic saying

of Wieland Wagner's from Bayreuth --

"Hier wird keine Politik gesprochen,

nur Richard Wagner gesungen."

"Here, we won't talk politics.

We're only going to sing Richard Wagner."

♪♪

Rutenberg: The artistic leadership was mostly left to Wieland,

which was, you know, a stroke of genius.

He had a vision for new Bayreuth.

Narrator: Resnik later wrote,

"Wieland worked with such detail on every word, every meaning."

One day, he said to her, "Frau Regina,

do you know who you are on stage?

When you leave Bayreuth,

you will know how strong a presence you are,

and you will eliminate all superfluous gestures."

Regina: Wieland Wagner taught me to do nothing.

I learned that from him, and I will be always grateful to him for that.

Stratas: She worked with the masters in her craft,

all these people who are instruments

of the composer and the librettos.

They have the direct line of inspiration,

that they could all come together

and be vehicles for this very great,

redeeming thing.

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Narrator: Resnik's thoughts were swirling on the long trip home.

There was her 9-month-old son.

There was Bayreuth.

It was behind her but would reemerge.

There was Wieland Wagner.

There was Germany and the shadow of World War II.

Resnik later wrote, "If the world was to recuperate

from the tragedies of this century,

then surely the artists have to be the carriers

of understanding and tolerance.

For those of Jewish heritage,

it presented a different challenge --

to protect our heritage, to erase the hideous images,

and, particularly as Americans, to re-create the amalgam

that once made up the world of culture."

Regina Resnik would be that ambassador

for the next 60 years.

August 1953, Resnik was home,

but Bayreuth was still with her for a different reason.

Her voice had changed.

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

Regina: By the time I got to Bayreuth,

my voice had taken on a much darker quality.

[ Singing continues ]

♪♪

I found myself reveling in that sound.

I liked singing that way.

[ Singing continues ]

♪♪

Narrator: From the beginning, reviewers had noted

the richness of her voice and its wide range.

Sometimes, they criticized her high notes.

On day in Bayreuth, Resnik's conductor,

German maestro Clemens Krauss, took her aside and said,

"Have you ever thought about singing mezzo-soprano?"

In fact, he strongly suggested it.

I was becoming increasingly unhappy

with having to keep my voice very light.

Narrator: Still singing soprano,

Resnik made her television debut on "The Goldbergs,"

about Jewish working-class life in the Bronx.

♪Granada ♪

[ Singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Applause ]

Narrator: "The Goldbergs" might have been a homecoming.

Instead, it was a farewell to her soprano career.

The Cinderella years were over.

And I was in crisis for the next year and a half.

Narrator: Changing voice types was a major decision.

If it worked, it could mean a new career.

If it didn't, it would be the end.

For advice, Resnik turned to a great Italian baritone

of the Golden Age, Giuseppe Danise, who said...

Regina: "You were born a mezzo-soprano.

It's only that you started so young."

I said, "What can I leave of my old repertoire?"

He said, "'Carmen.'"

And I said, "You mean I'm now to give up 28 parts?"

I had learned and sung 28 roles.

And he said, "Yes."

And I said, "What must I do? Learn to walk again?"

And he said, "No. We're going to learn a new part.

We're going to learn Amneris.

Narrator: As a soprano, Resnik had sung the title role in "Aida."

She would now sing the opera's antagonist, Amneris,

as a mezzo-soprano.

She reinvented herself over the course of, I think,

about a year or so.

Narrator: It was another voice.

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

Regina Resnik made her mezzo-soprano debut as Amneris

at the Cincinnati Summer Opera in July 1955.

[ Singing continues ]

♪♪

[ Applause ]

Doors opened in San Francisco, Toronto, Chicago.

♪♪

"Carmen" was the part that defined the new Resnik,

starting with her debut at London's Royal Opera House.

Bonynge: I first had the great pleasure of meeting Regina Resnik in 1957

in Covent Garden when she sang a most fantastic "Carmen."

♪L'oiseau que tu croyais surprendere ♪

♪Battit d'aile et s'envola ♪

♪L'amour est loin, tu peux l'attendre ♪

♪Tu ne l'attends pas, il est là ♪

♪Tout atour de toi, vite vite ♪

♪Il vient, s'en va puis il revient ♪

♪Tu crois le tenir, il t'evite ♪

♪Tu crois l'eviter, il te tient ♪

The "Carmen" performance there was a joy for me as a conductor.

She was, like -- I had her at the tip of my baton.

[ Singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

She was able, through her eyes and then, ultimately,

through her voice and her phrasing,

to project the most extraordinarily sexy woman

in the role of Carmen.

[ Singing operatically in foreign language ]

She enveloped you with her ferocity.

[ Singing continues ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Narrator: The '60s were Resnik's glory years,

singing and recording under conductors such as Bernstein,

Mehta, Solti, Karajan, Bohm, and Giulini.

In London and Vienna,

the Resnik gallery encompassed "Carmen"

and the operas of Verdi, Richard Strauss, Wagner,

Mussorgsky, Poulenc, and Kurt Weill.

The range of roles she played was unparalleled.

It gave me an opportunity, really, to test myself as an actress.

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

She was about the character coming to life

and that character being presented to you for you to feel,

as audience, who she is.

Stratas: Like Callas, her voice was, from the first notes, identifiable.

If you heard it, you knew it was Resnik.

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

♪♪

Regina Resnik became one of the great --

truly great -- mezzo-sopranos of her generation.

Narrator: But at the Met, Rudolf Bing offered Resnik

small acting roles, so-called character parts.

Rudolf Bing -- I had the opinion

that he couldn't hear the difference in her voice.

And that was unfortunately New York's loss.

Narrator: Resnik stood her ground and quit the Met in 1962.

Certainly, Regina Resnik never backed down.

Narrator: At her French debut in Marseille in 1962,

the public booed Don José.

Resnik faced the crowd and called out,

"Silence! Silence."

Half the public loved her.

Half of them hated her.

She was what she was.

♪♪

Narrator: The following year brought her back to the San Francisco Opera

with great acclaim as a mezzo-soprano,

opening the season opposite Leontyne Price in "Aida."

She also had time for some fun.

Resnik and her old friend,

baritone Robert Merrill, had a ball

recording "Kismet," a musical set in the "Arabian Nights."

Regina: What shall be the subject of our erotic discourse?

Merrill: Shall we discuss the nature of virtue?

This song is called "Rahadlakum."

♪ Rahadlakum

♪ Rahadlakum?

It's a euphemism for sex.

But, hey, it was the '60s.

♪ Rahad

♪ Rahad ♪ Rahad

"Rahadlakum" -- I mean, life doesn't get much better than that.

♪♪

Narrator: In the mid-1960s, there was an unspoken truce with the Met.

Rudolf Bing needed Resnik

for Mistress Quickly in "Falstaff,"

directed by Franco Zeffirelli

and conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

If one had the luck to see Regina as Quickly,

she was absolutely unforgettable.

♪ Sir, your servant

♪♪

♪ It's Mistress Alice Ford ♪

Go on.

♪ Alas, poor wretched creature ♪

♪ You're a mighty seducer

I know. Continue.

♪ Poor Alice endures a terrible torment of love for you ♪

♪ She bids me tell you she heard of the note you sent ♪

♪ For which she thanks you ♪

♪ For her husband goes out in the daytime ♪

♪ Between 2:00 and 3:00

♪ Between 2:00 and 3:00

Narrator: And then there was the title role

in "The Queen of Spades."

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Stratas: I recall in "Queen of Spades," for instance,

that she was both terrifying and vulnerable

almost in the same instant.

She was the embodiment of that old lady

that Tchaikovsky probably dreamed of.

That was a tour de force, a wonderful, wonderful performance.

Regina really, really nailed it in all her roles, actually.

[ Singing continues ]

♪♪

♪♪

Narrator: And Klytamnestra in "Elektra."

♪♪

♪Und doch kriecht ♪

♪Zwischen tag und nacht ♪

♪Wenn ich mit offnen augen lieg ♪

♪Ein Etwas hin uber mich ♪

♪Es ist kein wort ♪

♪Es ist kein schmerz ♪

♪Es druckt mich nicht ♪

♪Es wurgt mich nicht ♪

♪Nichts ist es ♪

Regina Resnik was the perfect embodiment,

both physically and musically,

of what the role of Klytamnestra is about.

♪Diese traume ♪

♪Mussen ein ende haben ♪

♪Wer sie immer schickt ♪

♪Ein jeder damon lasst von uns ♪

♪Sobald das rechte ♪

♪Blut ♪

♪Geflossen ist ♪

The challenge to Klytamnestra

was to mix the tragedy of Klytamnestra,

who was, in a way, a victim,

and the grotesque monster she became

in the murder of her husband.

[ Laughing evilly ]

♪♪

She was absolutely terrifying in her face and her voice.

[ Laughing evilly ]

It was incredible.

[ Laughing evilly ]

♪♪

I won't forget those moments ever.

♪♪

Narrator: And then there was "Carmen,"

everywhere, it seemed, except the Met.

Stratas: When she wanted something,

she kept going into administration

and going after the role until she broke them down,

and they did, indeed, have her sing

"Carmen" at the Metropolitan Opera.

Narrator: But she was third cast.

Then, one cold January day, the leading lady canceled,

and it was Regina to the rescue.

♪♪

♪♪

[ Applause ]

♪♪

"Carmen" at the Met --

a momentous night in more ways than one.

Stratas: In the audience was a painter named Arbit Blatas.

He probably fell in love immediately.

He saw her, and he said,

"I would love to paint you as Carmen,"

and that was the beginning of a very, very great love affair.

Narrator: Regina Resnik and her husband, Harry Davis, had grown apart.

A few years later, the couple separated, then divorced.

It was amicable.

Each of them remarried happily.

♪♪

The Carmen portrait had brought Resnik and Blatas together.

Now it would catapult them into theatrical collaboration

as director and designer.

Rolf Liebermann, the general director

of the Hamburg State Opera,

had invited Resnik to direct her first opera, "Carmen."

Regina: And so I came to Mr. Blatas, and I said,

"Looking at that portrait, I have a feeling

that you could design a beautiful 'Carmen.'

Would you be interested?" And he said, "Yes."

We came up with a design and a directorial conception,

and we signed a contract to do it.

Narrator: The Hamburg production is captured in the documentary

"Carmen: the Dream and the Destiny,"

directed by Christopher Nupen, shown on PBS in 1975.

It starred Huguette Tourangeau as Carmen

and Plácido Domingo as Don José.

Regina: It was one of the first films made

showing the birth of an opera,

how it's born and why and backstage.

[ Singing operatically in foreign language ]

And with a card...

[ Singing continues ]

♪♪

And the chord has only to be you and not the card.

I knew it all the time before I would play...

The card.

See?

♪♪

Narrator: Over the next 10 years, with Blatas as designer,

Resnik directed on international stages,

often singing some of her famous roles in her own productions.

♪♪

Regina: The 10 years we spent as director and designer

will remain memorable in our lives.

It was a great decade, and I thank my husband

for that beautiful decade of work.

Stratas: How wonderful is that, to find that kind of a love in your life

and go on and flourish?

Regina: ♪Ich lade gern mir gaste ein ♪

♪Man lebt bei mir recht fein ♪

Narrator: Exit laughing,

that was how Regina Resnik closed out her operatic career,

having the time of her life with her friend Joan Sutherland

in "Die Fledermaus" and "The Daughter of the Regiment."

The conductor on both of those occasions

was maestro Richard Bonynge.

Regina: ♪Duld' ich bei Gasten nicht ♪

You don't need me to tell you what a great artist

Regina Resnik was.

Everybody knows. The world knows.

Her timing and her performance was outstanding.

She was a great singer, a great actress, and a great teacher.

She was a very great lady, and I miss her very much.

♪♪

Narrator: But for anyone who knew Regina Resnik,

"retirement" was not a word in her vocabulary.

Well, she had reached another point in her life,

and musical theater was something that did interest her.

Rutenberg: At the end of her operatic career,

she had the good sense and the intelligence, again,

because it wasn't easy,

to reinvent herself in "Cabaret."

♪♪

Narrator: In 1986, director Harold Prince

was casting a revival of "Cabaret,"

centered around its original star, Joel Grey.

A key role needed to be filled, Fraulein Schneider,

the German landlady originated by the iconic Lotte Lenya.

Prince recalled the minute he met with Regina Resnik,

she was his first choice.

Lotte Lenya had created this role,

and you know not to try to imitate Lotte Lenya,

yet you need someone as strong as Lotte Lenya,

and -- and she was.

Regina was totally different but just as powerful.

And yet she didn't play it at all as Lenya had played it,

but she gave it the same verisimilitude that it demanded.

Schneider had so much background

and had been through so much,

and I think that that's endemic in both of those women --

a history.

I thought we were really lucky to have a great opera star.

I thought we were the luckiest people in the world

to get her to play Schneider,

and I think she thought she was the luckiest actress.

Regina: They were auditioning very fine actresses for this part

but not find anyone who could sing it.

I sang 578 out of 600 performances.

Prince: Given how experienced she was

and how secure she was and how damn strong she was,

when we went into rehearsal with "Cabaret,"

she'd do something, and then she'd break and look at me.

So I said, "You're doing it great. Now, don't look at me."

Well, she was insecure in that world

until she proved herself, and she was great.

♪♪

Narrator: Resnik received a Tony nomination

as Best Featured Actress in her Broadway debut.

Two years later, Harold Prince recommended Resnik

for the role of Madame Armfeldt in "A Little Night Music"

at the New York City Opera in 1990.

Prince: I said, "I've got one vital piece of casting for you,

and just have her come in and say a word to her,

but use her."

I do not object to the immorality of your life,

merely to its sloppiness.

There was no question in my mind that she'd get it,

and when she did it, she was definitive again.

♪ Liaisons

♪ What's happened to them? ♪

♪ Liaisons today

♪ To see them indiscriminate women ♪

♪ It pains me more than I can say ♪

Narrator: Resnik won a Drama Desk nomination for her performance.

♪♪

[ Cheers and applause ]

♪♪

Regina Resnik gave of her time and talent

to Jewish culture and Jewish causes.

She organized permanent installations

of her husband's art

and perpetuated Blatas' Jewish legacy

after his death in 1999.

At age 75, she found the ideal expression of her Jewish voice,

her own series, "Regina Resnik Presents."

Jewish music is the reflection of the breath

of the Jewish experience,

of its tragedies and its joys.

It's the music of nostalgia...

♪♪

...the strains of a Sephardic love song

and the myriad sounds that Jews brought to

and took from their adoptive homelands.

Narrator: For the next 15 years,

Resnik produced live and televised concerts,

all of which she narrated.

Regina: "Colors of the Diaspora,"

a kaleidoscope of Jewish classical song.

Oye.

Narrator: And to the delight of audiences,

she occasionally performed.

Back in my time, they would talk like this.

Manners, they had.

♪♪

The times, they've changed.

It's easy to see.

Nothing remains, nothing stays the same.

So fine, so proud they used to be.

♪ Now they're like everyone else nowadays ♪

♪♪

♪ Where did they go?

♪♪

[ Bell tolling ]

For the first time in the history of Venice,

the national holiday, Italy's liberation from the Nazis,

is celebrated in the square of its historic ghetto.

Narrator: At age 90, Resnik coproduced and narrated the documentary

"Geto: The Historic Jewish Ghetto of Venice."

It was the final accomplishment of Resnik's 70-year career,

honoring the Jewish people and her late husband,

whose work she championed.

Regina: A monument has been cast by Arbit Blatas

that stands not only to remind us

of the last Holocaust,

it also reminds us of the people

who first came to this place called Geto.

♪♪

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

Stratas: Regina carried somehow

some secret or some knowledge about life,

the exquisite vulnerability of the moment

and how beautiful --

if you see a flower, how beautiful that flower is

and also how terrifying life can be.

That was Regina for me.

Jack: I was very proud. I was excited.

She'd became a smash.

Whenever the curtain went up, she was ready.

A great singer, a great actress, and a great teacher.

She was the real thing. She was just the real thing.

There just was no one like her.

She has her place in history.

And as you all do, I miss her, too.

She's unforgettable.

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

[ Regina singing operatically in foreign language ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

STREAM ALL ARTS VAULT SELECTS ON

  • ios
  • apple_tv
  • android
  • roku
  • firetv

FEATURED PROGRAMS