1949 he returned to the stage with his most ambitious work, an operatic
version of Lillian Hellman's play, THE LITTLE FOXES, entitled REGINA. Despite
critical acclaim, its initial run on Broadway lasted barely six weeks. Later
revivals in 1953 and 1958 established REGINA in its rightful place in the
opera house. It is still his most frequently performed composition, and,
in its recently restored complete from, is arguably the great American opera.
His greatest commercial success came with his adaptation of Weill and Brecht's
THREEPENNY OPERA. Originally produced in 1952 at Brandeis, under Bernstein,
it became one of Off-Broadway's longest running attractions. It also gave
Blitzstein his only pop hit, "MACK THE
KNIFE", which has been performed by artists as diverse as Bobby Darin, Louis Armstrong, and Robbie Wiliams.
But the remaining years of the 50s were less kind. Two theatre projects were both commercial and (in the versions presented) artistic failures. REUBEN REUBEN (1955), a fine score, but suffering from problems with Blitzstein's book, never made it to New York, and closed out of town in Boston - it has not been seen since. JUNO (1959), based on Sean O'Casey's JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK (1924), and in which Blitzstein's hopes of financial success were contained, was compromised by a production which softened the gritty realism of O'Casey's tragi-comic masterpiece, and it managed barely two weeks on Broadway. Recent revivals have revealed that Blitzstein's conception was far closer to the O'Casey original than its Broadway premiere suggested.
An orchestral tone poem LEAR: A STUDY (1958), was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic. Its premiere was critically and publically well received, but the piece has yet to be given a second performance. The composer's manuscript score is available for perusal online at the New York Philharmonic archive here.