Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Songs of Night and Travel, Wigmore Hall

The coming of ‘Night’ brings darkness, shadows and mystery; sleep, dreams and nightmares; fancies, fantasies and passions.

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera

Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, now at the Royal Opera House, is no more about history than Jesus Christ Superstar is about theology.

Yevgeny Onegin in Warsaw

Mariusz Treliński’s staging of Tchaikovsky’s operatic masterpiece is visually fascinating but psychologically confusing

Orfeo at the Roundhouse, Royal Opera

The regal trumpets and sackbuts sound their bold herald and, followed by admiring eyes, the powers of state and church begin their dignified procession along a sloping walkway to assume their lofty positions upon the central dais.

Idomeneo in Montpellier

Vestiges of a momentous era . . .

L’elisir d’amore in Marseille

There were hints that L’elisir is one of the great bel canto masterpieces.

Das Liebesverbot opens the new season at Teatro Verdi in Trieste

Aron Stiehl’s production of this rare early Wagner opera cheerfully brings commedia dell’arte to La Cage aux Folles.

Amsterdam: Lohengrin Lite

Stage director Pierre Audi is not one to be strictly representational in his story telling.

Fidelio, Manitoba Opera

For the first time in its 42-year history, Manitoba Opera presented Beethoven’s mighty ode to freedom, Fidelio, with an extraordinary production that resonated as loudly as tolling bells of freedom.

The Hilliard Ensemble: Farewell Concert at Wigmore Hall

Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Mahler Songs: Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

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):