Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

The New York Festival of Song Creates Intimacy and Joy in a Series of Lesser-Known Rachmaninoff Songs

The New York Festival of Song, founded in 1988 by Michael Barrett and Steven Blier, offers unique evenings of songs rarely heard, or songs rarely heard in conjunction with one another.

Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg in San Francisco

Falstaff and Die Meistersinger are among the pinnacles if not the pinnacles of nineteenth century opera. Both operas are atypical of the composer and both operas are based on a Shakespeare play.

Le Nozze di Figaro, Manitoba Opera

To borrow from the great Bard himself: “the course of true love never did run smooth.”

Arizona Opera Presents Florencia in el Amazonas

Florencia in el Amazonas was the first Spanish-language opera to be commissioned by major United States opera houses.

Viva la Mamma!: A Fun Evening at POP

Gaetano Donizetti wrote a comedy or dramma giocoso called Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali (The Conventions and Inconveniences of the Theater), which is also known by the shorter title, Viva La Mamma!.

LA Opera Norma: A Feast for the Ears

Vincenzo Bellini composed Norma to a libretto that Felice Romani had fashioned after Alexandre Soumet’s French play, Norma, ossia L'infanticidio (Norma, or The Infanticide).

Alban Berg’s Wozzeck at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In order to mount a successful production of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck, first performed in 1925, the dramatic intensity and lyrical beauty of the score must become the focal point for participants.

A Prize-Winning Rediscovery from 1840s Paris (and 1830s Egypt)

Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century. In recent days,

Florilegium at Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704).

Leoncavallo’s Zazà by Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà — a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights — is a walking compendium of emotions.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Biedermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.



Porgy and Bess in the National Company of
22 Nov 2013

Porgy and Bess in San Francisco

It’s been renamed “The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess,” it hails itself as “The American Musical” and further qualifies itself as “The Porgy and Bess for the Twenty-First Century.”

Porgy and Bess in San Francisco

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Alicia Hall Moran as Bess, Nathaniel Stampley as Porgy in the National Company of "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" [Photo by Michael J. Lutch]


Yet Porgy and Bess has survived through all this! Well, more or less, and even so it again proves itself an operatic masterpiece of the American century.

All the above titles and qualifiers played at New York’s Richard Rogers Theater for nine months in 2012 and began a national tour in San Francisco this November 10 at the Golden Gate Theatre (a barn of an old theater in San Francisco’s, uhm, colorful Tenderloin). It travels on to Los Angeles and to cities in Florida and Ohio.

This Porgy and Bess has new punch indeed. The draconian control over the opera by the Gershwin Estate evidently continues (note the registered trademark logos), here manifest in the Gershwin Estate’s choice of Broadway director Diane Paulus (Hair) to consider perspectives that heretofore have remained buried in its characters and therefore to renew the piece.

The musical adaptation by Diedre L. Murray (Running Man) is always in the Gershwin spirit if not to its letter. For starters Jake sang the second verse of Clara’s “Summertime.” It went from there to music you think you have never heard before. As well the recasting of the story by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog) may have made some of the old music seem like new music.

Moving from the pit of an opera house to the pit of a vaudeville theater necessitates much reduced orchestration — five woodwinds and six brass (both with an impressive array of instruments to be blown), nine strings, and a keyboard. The percussion battery, somehow manipulated by one player, includes just about anything you can think of to hit or ring.

Additional transformation from opera house to theater is the addition of sound reinforcement. Here Acme Sound Partners (Hair, A Chorus Line) keeps the sound at reasonable levels and the balance of voice to pit at someone’s idea of perfection. Though the wall of sound is quite flat the skilled players in the orchestra wail the great pieces we know so well, and with the percussion battery and digital sound technology create a hurricane that is positively awesome.

Porgy_SHNSF2.png The national cast of THE GERSHWINS' PORGY AND BESS. Photo by Michael J. Lutch

What makes this production of Porgy and Bess become a fine piece of theatrical art is the minimalism of its staging — only a raked stage platform, an abstract ramshackle back wall, a sky scrim for the picnic, a border to make an interior, a hanging lamp to swing in the storm. There are but twenty-two total inhabitants of Catfish Row, and two policemen. These minimal physical and human resources focused our responses onto the opera’s human tragedies through the joys and sorrows we could clearly perceive on each and every face and body on the stage.

The choreography, by Ronald K. Brown too was minimal, just enough to make it a “show” with a few snappy moves by the bodies that could, and even some surprising, acrobatic moves (the four fishermen being fish) by bodies you were sure could not — there were no skinny chorus boys and girls here.

Unlike the broader and deeper exploration of the human spirit that may occur on the opera stage the Broadway musical heads for always direct emotions. Suzan-Lori Parks has Bess deeply in love with Porgy. Clara hands her baby to Bess who becomes its surrogate mother. A dose of happy dust in a weak moment forces Mariah, the matriarch of Catfish Row to expel Bess, who, devastated, has no where to go but New York. Porgy then seems to be going somewhere too, transfixed by love.

It all works and it is all opera, meaning big stories, big emotions, big music, because of the splendid performances of Alicia Hall Moran as Bess, Nathaniel Stampley as Porgy and Alvin Crawford as Crown. Mlle. Moran plays a weak and strong Bess, warm and fun, above all honest. Bess is complex and of course since it is a musical she is very appealing. Mr. Stampley makes Porgy a simple, warm and open spirit, charismatic and quite handsome. Mr. Crawford is a towering, muscular force, dumb and selfish though he too is good underneath it all. All ably vocally negotiated their numbers, especially Mlle. Moran in an appropriately husky mezzo.

Opera audiences will surely savor the pleasures of this smart production, tightly conceived and very well directed. One can wish for such stagecraft on opera house stages where production values on the level of this Porgy and Bess are very rare, too rare indeed.

For comparison with an opera house production please see Porgy and Bess at San Francisco Opera.

Michael Milenski

Casts and production information:

Porgy: Nathaniel Stampley; Bess: Alicia Hall Moran; Clara: Sumayya Ali; Jake: David Hughey; Mariah: Danielle Lee Greaves; Sporting Life: Kingsley Leggs; Mingo: Kent Overshown; Serena: Denisha Ballew; Robbins: James Earl Jones II; Crown: Alvin Crawford; Detective: Dan Barnhill; Policeman: Fred Rose; Strawberry Woman: Sarita Rachelle Lilly; Honey Man; Chauncey Packer; Crab Man; Dwelvan David. Conductor: Dale Rieling. American Repertory Theater production. Book adaptation: Suzan-Lori Parks; Musical score adaptation: Diedre L. Murray; Stage Director: Diane Paulus; Choreography: Ronald K. Brown; Set Design: Riccardo Hernandez; Costume Design: ESosa; Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind. Golden Gate Theater, San Francisco. November 20, 2013.

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):