Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger commemorated at the Proms

Two French commemorations - ‘anniversaries’ always seems the wrong word - and surely is - here: the centenary of the deaths of Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger.

Pique Dame in Salzburg

It was emeritus night at the Salzburg Festival with 75 year old maestro Mariss Jansons conducting 77 year old stage director Hans Neuenfels production about Pushkin’s 87 year old countess known as the Pique Dame.

Lohengrin at Bayreuth

Three electrifying moments and the world is forever changed.

Salome in Salzburg

A Romeo Castellucci production is always news, it is even bigger news just now in Salzburg where Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian has made her debut as the fifteen year-old Salome.

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

Donizetti's 'Regiment' Ride the Highway: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

'The score … is precisely one of those works that neither the composer nor the public takes seriously. The harmony, melody, rhythmic effects, instrumental and vocal combinations; it’s music, if you wish, but not new music. The orchestra consumes itself in useless noises…'

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Talise Trevigne as Bess and Musa Ngqungwana as Porgy in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2017 production of The Gershwins'
23 Aug 2017

American Masterpiece Conquers Cooperstown

If anything is more all-American than baseball, it just might be Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which scored a triumphant home run for the Glimmerglass Festival.

American Masterpiece Conquers Cooperstown

A review by James Sohre

Above: Talise Trevigne as Bess and Musa Ngqungwana as Porgy

Photos © Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

 

Francesca Zambello has had considerable success staging the piece for other notable companies, and as evidenced by this richly detailed production, she has honed her insights to a finely polished interpretation. Ms. Zambello occasionally likes to flavor her operas with musical comedy flair and it does not go amiss here.

When appropriate, she enlisted choreographer Eric Sean Fogel to lighten up the mood with well-considered moves that emerge organically from exuberant revelers. Mr. Fogel’s staged movement was not only entertaining in its own right, but also greatly deepened the violent, tragic moments by providing good contrast. The only false move was the series of woozy cakewalk kicks at the climax of There’s a Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon for New York. It seemed out of character to have a weakened, drugged up Bess this frolicsome as she is slimily lured against her will by the pimping Sportin’ Life.

Ms. Zambello’s Catfish Row is peopled by a bustling, believable vitality that communicated a powerful sense of community. When David Moody’s scrupulously prepared chorus launched into their many big choral numbers, the Thrill-o-Meter needle jumped off the charts. Francesca has built strong individual characterizations with each cast member, and has nurtured relationships that are marked by honesty and clarity. The sense of directorial focus and readily comprehensible storytelling that emerge out of this rich mosaic of dramatic moments is nothing short of brilliant.

KarliCadel-GGF17-Porgy-GenDress-4487.pngFrederick Ballentine as Sportin' Life with members of the ensemble

When Peter J. Davison’s imposing set is first revealed behind a front scrim, glowing hauntingly in Mark McCullough’s splendid lighting design, the audience burst into appreciative applause. Mr. Davison’s massive two story structure has rows of doors on each level, the upper balcony reached by a spiral staircase down right. This walkway extends to a large, barnlike building up left, with Porgy’s residence on ground level. A huge barn door, contained in the stage left wall, is opened and closed with import at key dramatic moments.

There is a wonderful chiaroscuro effect to the structures, the walls dotted and layered with rusting squares of sheet metal. For the storm scene, we are in a community hall with chairs and a table, defined as a huge wall flies in cutting the depth of the stage in half. Black plastic blows in the windows, augmented by Mr. McCullough’s threatening lightning. Sporadic dropping, banging and dangling of metal squares that had been “blown away” added fearful unpredictability to the chaotic effect.

The team has also “opened up” the action by flying in a partial wall and adding a bed to take us inside Porgy’s room. This allowed for a very focused private moment for both of the big duets. Another outstanding re-imagination was the conception of the Kittiwah Island setting as a neglected, gone to seed beachside amusement park. Sportin’ Life interrupts a holy roller baptism session to deliver his irreverent It Ain’t Necessarily So. To complete the dynamic look of the production, Paul Tazewell contributed the comprehensive costume design ranging from homely everyday attire, to Sunday-go-to-meetin’ finery, to splashes of garish color for Bess and Sportin’ life.

John DeMain kept things humming in the pit from the opening slashes of brass licks to the final stirring chorus. Under Maestro DeMain’s assured baton, this well-paced reading of Gershwin’s evergreen opera never sounded fresher. Having such a prodigiously talented cast sure didn’t hurt either.

KarliCadel-GGF17-Porgy-GenDress-4831.pngMeroë Khalia Adeeb as Clara

Musa Ngqungwana is such a force of nature as Porgy, with a voice of such jaw-dropping beauty, richness, and power that he just might become a household name. Practice saying Ngqungwana now, because his star is only going to go higher and higher. Musa has such a big, beaming, lovable open face that you are not quite prepared for his ferocity when he is goaded to confront evil. His painful limping gait, his superstitious negative fantasies, his loneliness, his compassion, his utter devotion to Bess; there is no aspect of this complicated role that he does not serve with uncommon distinction. If I had to comprise a short list of the show’s highlights, it would be: Whenever Musa Ngqungwana is on stage.

Talise Trevigne makes an equally strong case for Bess, bringing star power to her well-considered interpretation. Her confident, glimmering soprano beautifully encompassed some of the work’s best-known melodies. Ms. Trevigne brought committed acting to the mix, and she found all the necessary extremes to this unstable, emotionally volatile character. Her singing is pliable and expressive in all registers and volumes, and she judiciously uses her chest voice to serve the desperate lower pleas in What You Want With Bess? Talise and Musa are wonderfully paired, exuding a good chemistry. Bess, You Is My Woman Now was so heart rending to see, so ravishing to hear that I thought the show might never get going again from the prolonged, cheering ovation at its conclusion.

Norman Garrett’s incisive, booming bass and lanky, lean, mean intensity made for a knockout performance as Crown. Frederick Ballentine’s serpentine take on Sportin’ Life was relentless in his bad-ass persona. Although Mr. Ballentine’s dancing was fleet of foot and his secure tenor pleased the ear, we never forgot that beneath the cynical comic overtones in the music, there was an unrepentant, unwavering criminal. Serena has one of the most overtly “operatic” solos, and Simone Z. Paulwell’s throbbing, well-schooled soprano made My Man’s Gone Now a plangent lament marked by velvet tone and utter commitment.

KarliCadel-GGF17-Porgy-GenDress-4894.pngNorman Garrett as Crown

Meroe Khalia Adeeb has the most famous tune in the show, and her fresh, floated, silvery soprano made for a bewitching Summertime. Justin Austin’s honeyed baritone was well suited to the role of Jake. Chaz’men Williams-Ali has such a pleasing, vibrant tenor that it was a shame to lose him early on as the ill-fated Robbins. Happily, he snuck back in action later with a playful turn as the Crab Man. Judith Skinner struck just the right balance of brassy chest tones and cutting head voice to offer a well-rounded impersonation of Maria.

The enduring popularity of Porgy and Bess combined with the lovingly staged, magnificently performed production at hand deservedly made it a sell-out success. But I have to wonder, with all the stellar African-American talent filling the stage, where was the black audience? I wouldn’t even need to use all my fingers to count the African-Americans in the parterre seats at my performance. If opera is to sustain itself as an art form, it’s a question producers are going to have to answer. And if anyone can, my bet is on the resourceful Glimmerglass Festival.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Clara: Meroe Khalia Adeeb; Mingo: Steven D. Myles; Sportin’ Life: Frederick Ballentine; Jake: Justin Austin; Serena: Simone Z. Paulwell; Robbins: Chaz’men Williams-Ali; Jim: Nicholas Davis; Peter: Edward Graves; Lily: Gabriella H. Sam; Maria: Judith Skinner; Porgy: Musa Ngqungwana; Crown: Norman Garrett; Bess: Talise Trevigne; Detective: Zachary Owen; Policeman: Brent Michael Smith; Undertaker: Calvin Griffin; Annie: Briana Elyse Hunter; Nelson: Elliott Paige; Strawberry Woman: Jasmin White; Crab Man: Chaz’men Williams-Ali; Coroner: Chris Kjolhede; Scipio: Piers Shannon; Conductor: John DeMain; Director: Francesca Zambello; Choreographer: Eric Sean Fogel; Set Design: Peter J. Davison; Costume Design: Paul Tazewell; Lighting Design: Mark McCullough; Hair and Make-up Design: J. Jared Janas, Dave Bova; Chorus Master: David Moody

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):