George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

In the rough and tumble life of African-American ship workers in the 1930's, a fledgling romance tries to bloom between the cracks of the dock.  The affable Porgy, sung by Eric Owens, defends the reputation of the lovely Bess, sung by Laquita Mitchell.

When Bess's violent boyfriend is sent on the lam for murder, none of the townsfolk will take in Bess -- except for Porgy, who has the chance to finally play the hero. Their passions ignite and now Porgy must protect Bess from the violent boyfriend, a drug-pushing pimp and a hurricane. 

Gershwin, who straddled many genres from classical through popular songs, was perfectly situated to write a score to meld classical forms with jazz influences for an operatic setting guaranteed to reach large audiences. The work brings up questions of its depictions of race and has caused racial controversy since its inception. Nonetheless, it's perseverance through the decades has allowed it to remain an important piece of history, both for modern critique and aesthetics.

This production, directed by Francesca Zambello, has made the rounds to several opera houses. It's heard in a 2009 version at San Francisco Opera.

CAST:

Bess - Laquita Mitchell
Porgy - Eric Owens
Sportin’ Life - Chauncey Packer
Crown - Lester Lynch
Clara - Angel Blue
Serena - Karen Slack
Maria - Alteouise deVaughn
Jake - Eric Green
Mingo - Michael Bragg
Annie - Malesha Jessie
Strawberry Woman - Samantha McElhaney
Lily - Amber Mercomes
Robbins - Michael Austin
Crab Man - Ashley Faatoalia
Peter - Calvin Lee
Nelson - Frederick Matthews
Jim - Earl Hazell
Frazier - Kenneth Overton
Undertaker - Darren K. Stokes
Detective - Richard Farrell
Policeman - Louis Landman
Coroner - John Minagro

CONDUCTOR: John DeMain

STAGE DIRECTOR: Francesca Zambello

PORGY & BESS ENSEMBLE        

CHORUS DIRECTOR: Ian Robertson

Comments [3]

Jock Stender from Charleston, SC

Though the characters are not specifically identified by occupation in the libretto, Alonso Alegria is correct; the storm that occurs during the opera puts at risk the lives of men who are out at sea.

Longshoremen (dock workers) do not work "at sea."

And although African American men, as opposed to white men, were (and are) Charleston's longshoremen (the white men, as was DuBose Heyward, are the "clerks and checkers"), menfolk of Porgy and Bess were part of the Mosquito Fleet -- mostly fishermen, oystermen and crabbers.

See http://www.knowitall.org/schistory/IndexResults.cfm?picRefs=E12.

Regarding Phyllis Sharpe's complaint that "it was difficult to understand the lyrics," the accent of the original, real people in this "folk opera" (Gershwin's description) was not a crisp English accent but rather a Geechee English accent -- unique to the lowcountry -- still spoken today.

See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kY_0lXMeVM&feature=related
and
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFNy51QlV7k

I'm thrilled that Francesca Zambello put this opera together. It's an American classic.

Incidentally, I'd like to see her produce S.C. native Carlisle Floyd's 1955 opera "Suzannah," also rooted in the American South.

Jock Stender
Charleston, SC

Sep. 11 2011 01:16 AM
Phyllis Sharpe

I think this was a poor choice for today. The Cast was not good. Though it was in English it was difficult to understand the lyrics, even though they are familiar.
The original cast, all African American, was so much better, but not classically trained, not performing in a classical space with a classical orchestra, so WQXR couldn't even consider broadcasting it.
That is a pity and a disservice to your audience.

Sep. 10 2011 06:28 PM
Alonso Alegria

Ship workers? Docks? As I understand it, the romance between Bess and Porgy takes place in Catfish (an apt name) Row, where all the inhabitants are fishermen. We even see them at work, not in the docks but pulling their boats out to sea! AA

Sep. 10 2011 02:34 PM

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