Regina, the protagonist of Marc Blitzstein's eponymous 1949 operatic adaptation of Lillian Hellman's play The Little Foxes, is a coldhearted southern schemer who plots against her greedy brothers and watches her husband die when she could save him by calling a doctor--unless she's a strong-willed protofeminist with the courage to buck the patriarchy. Whether playing the coquette with an old beau or spitting verbal venom like "I hope you die soon," she's one of the most riveting characters in American musical theater. In adapting Hellman's play, Blitzstein, an ardent socialist, broadened its social and economic context, bringing into sharper focus racial issues and the conflict between the south's landed gentry and the rising middle class spawned by industry. Some of the revisions put him at odds with Hellman, who, although a friend and fellow traveler, saw them as extraneous to the family psychodrama of her play. But Blitzstein did skillfully weave Hellman's dialogue into the songs in a way that preserved its essential rhythms. In composing the score he artfully amalgamated a wide range of influences--from Puccini to jazz--into a distinctively American vernacular. Butchered in its original Broadway run, Regina received mixed reviews. But a restored version was made possible by the sleuthing of a team of researchers led by conductor John Mauceri, who recorded it in 1991. The Lyric Opera's new production is more or less the restored version, minus some black stereotypes; Mauceri will conduct. A bloodred grand staircase dominates the impressive set, part of the mise-en-scene devised by Charles Newell, artistic director of the Court Theatre. Lyric favorite Catherine Malfitano heads a terrific ensemble that includes sopranos Sheryl Woods and Sari Gruber and baritone Timothy Nolen. Monday, September 29, and Friday, October 3, 7:30 PM, and seven more performances through October 24, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker; 312-332-2244.