George Gershwin’s masterful folk-opera “Porgy and Bess” premiered in 1935. Unfortunately, it did not gain popularity until 1976 when the Houston Grand Opera brought it back to life. Based on the 1925 novel by DuBose Heyward title ‘Porgy’ the story follows an African-American street beggar who is crippled living on Catfish Row.
Porgy falls in love with Bess and tries to save her from Crown, her possessive former lover, and Sportin’ Life, her drug dealer. The story is one of love and passion. Gershwin saw that the intensity of the story would do well with the operatic medium. Heyward wrote the libretto alongside George’s brother, Ira Gershwin. Some of the songs, such as “Summertime” and “I Got Plenty O’Nuthin’” have gained great popularity.
It was beautifully performed and truly touching.
In this concert production by The National Philharmonic, it was slightly staged and no costumes were worn. Rather, the singers dressed in typical opera concert dress: tuxedos, gowns, and suits. The whole orchestra and chorale was right behind the singers as well, allowing the audience to see everything at once. The concert was conducted by Stan Engebretson and directed by Michael J. Bobbitt.
The orchestra played this complex score beautifully and the chorale handled the large choral numbers with tact. The chorale also included members of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Concert Choir.
The iconic role of Porgy was sung by Kevin Deas, a powerful bass. Deas is able to portray the huge array of Porgy’s emotions through his voice. He also has a big hearty grin that warms the stage and the heart as the audience sees Porgy experiencing pure joy.
Marlissa Hudson sang Bess. Hudson is a soaring soprano with a beautiful voice and stage presence. She is able to portray Bess’s struggle well. Hudson has a strong stage presence and embodies sensuality and passion.
The violent and possessive Crown was sung by Michael Redding, a man very loose in his body. He sang with cruelty in his voice. He is juxtaposed with Sportin’ Life, sung by Chauncey Packer, who also has a hold on Bess. Packer is smooth and sultry and moves very well on stage. Redding and Packer are both packed with energy.
Aundi Marie Moore sang the role of Serena with sorrow in her voice. She captures grief well with her haunting soprano. She is also able to bring a strong gospel flavor. NaGuanda Nobles sings Clara and Maria. She too has a beautiful voice that carries through the Music Center.
The loving Jake was sung by Edward Pleasant, a baritone with a full and rich sound. He is very gentle compared to the other men and Pleasant sings the role with optimism. Colin D. Eaton sings Mingo, Peter, and Robbins. Eaton’s sweet tenor voice is lovely and captures the jazz and operatic in this piece well.
The concert was beautiful celebration of Gershwin’s incredible achievement. It was beautifully performed and truly touching. It is so important for audiences to continue to experience pieces like “Porgy and Bess.”
Running Time: Two and half hours with intermission.
Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess: A Concert Opera” was performed by The National Philharmonic at the Music Center at Strathmore. For tickets or more information click here.