Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Laquita Mitchell (Bess) and Eric Owens (Porgy) [Photo by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
03 Jul 2009

Porgy and Bess in San Francisco

For Americans of older generations Porgy and Bess is surely a primal experience, formed by the 1959 Otto Preminger film with Sammy Davis Jr. as Sportin’ Life, the audio recording derived from the 1952 London production with Leontyne Price as Bess, and a first encounter with Porgy and Bess as an opera in the artistically satisfying, and well traveled 1976 Houston production (was it twenty-five performances in the War Memorial Opera House?).

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess

Click here for casting and other production information

Above: Laquita Mitchell (Bess) and Eric Owens (Porgy) [Photo by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera]

 

Maybe even some Americans were lucky enough to see the 1986 Glyndebourne production or its 1993 televised version, fabled as the best Porgy ever. Thus, with some help from its several Broadway-type attempts, the Gershwin Porgy has become a sing-along — we know every word and every note.

The San Francisco performances are a reprise of the 2005 Washington Opera production directed by Francesca Zambello, a production that has recently stopped off at the operas of Los Angeles and Chicago as well. Ms. Zambello is a noted director of large-scale opera, the Ring currently underway at the San Francisco and Washington operas, and War and Peace at the Seattle and Metropolitan operas, Billy Budd at Covent Garden as examples.

Mounting a Porgy is no small task, it has a huge cast, nine principal singers, sixteen named and solo roles that derive from an ensemble in San Francisco of forty-six [!] Black singers, not to mention three White speaking roles. Three (or more) fight scenes must be staged, plus three (or more) production numbers must be choreographed. It is scored for a full symphony orchestra that wails with the sonic abandon of big band. Can Porgy be crushed under its own weight?

The answer is an emphatic yes! Putting Porgy in the charge of a big time opera director, albeit a theatrically and operatically savvy one, magnified its weight, as did the absolute top operatic quality of its protagonists and ensemble singers (do not say chorus) placed in the hands of John DeMain, the world’s most experienced Porgy conductor. And all this thrust onto a major American opera stage where it is in de facto competition with the sophisticated operas of Benjamin Britten (maybe its closest foreign relative), not to mention the verismo of Puccini.

The end result of all this operatic know how simply lays bare the weaknesses of this Gershwin masterpiece. It does not know if it is an opera of sorts or a Broadway musical, and there is simply too much of it. Its original four hours were mercifully reduced to three hours fifteen minutes in this production, however its original two intermissions were reduced to one, making each of the two parts nearly an hour and a half. One might have preferred the longer version, but in three parts, i.e. a second pit stop. It was a long haul.

Porgy_SFO_2.gifChauncey Packer (Sportin’ Life) [Photo by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera]

The decision to unify its disparate stories and elements within the confines of a single unit set was a laudable, theatrically valid solution to objectify Gershwin’s well crafted dramatic structure, but it also brought visual boredom. The intimacy needed to make small scale, essentially jazz based vocals real was lost in the vast spaces of the omnipresent two level Catfish Row with a monumental warehouse door stage left (Jake’s fishing boat was pushed in and out from here as was the interior of Porgy’s hovel). Several extraordinary moments though stand out in this generally solid staging, the Kittiwah Island departure as one example, the hurricane, and particularly the moment when Bess, high on heroin is seduced by Sportin’ Life.

Strangely moving was the sense that Gershwin’s Blacks, the 1930’s Blacks, have become not only mainstream American culture but are fully realized performers of international musical arts, led in opera by some of our greatest Porgy interpreters, like Willard White (the Glyndebourne Porgy) and a host of others. The cast for the San Francisco production gave convincing if not definitive performances, led by the Porgy of baritone Eric Owens who bestowed elegant phrasing onto Gershwin’s lines. Laquita Mitchell gave a moving and real performance, vocally and physically, as Bess. Once past mourning Sammy Davis, Jr., Chauncey Packer delivered the goods as Sportin’ Life. We wanted more physical and sexual charisma from the Crown played by Lester Lynch, and in general more distinct personalities from the other principal singers as well.

The underpinnings of Porgy are humble. It is an intimate, uncomplicated story of love and lust in an ambience of poverty well known to operatic verismo, though in Porgy there are no issues, no complaint of injustice, no philosophic formulation of fate, and finally only desperate hope. It can be and is everyone’s story at distinct moments in human history. The challenge is to create an atmosphere for this humility in what is, pure and simple, an extravagant art form, and it was here that this production failed.

The copyright for this American operatic masterpiece (who cares if it has short comings, and is not really stage worthy, at least in this version) expires in 2012. The iron fist exercised by the Gershwin family over its productions will relax, the stiff royalty fees will no longer inhibit production, the insistence that its actors be black and that its locales be specific will no longer hold. Producers will be able to experiment with making this document of main-stream American culture (hardly Black-American culture) into viable theater.

Michael Milenski

Click here for a photo gallery of this production.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):