ENO’s Porgy and Bess: the raves roll in

ENO’s Porgy and Bess: the raves roll in


norman lebrecht

October 12, 2018

Slipped Disc published the first review at midnight. Now other media are starting to flow:

Richard Morrison in the Times:

… by far the biggest thrills in this new English National Opera production are when the specially recruited chorus hurl out these gloriously sonorous affirmations of Christian faith. It’s like the best gospel choir you’ve ever heard, and it reminds you how brilliantly, in their 1935 masterpiece, those white Jewish brothers George and Ira Gershwin succeeded in evoking (or, in today’s loaded jargon, “appropriating”) the faith and music of African-Americans.

And the second most thrilling thing about ENO’s staging is the quality of the solo singing from this ensemble. It’s as if a whole generation of black singers, drawn from Africa and America as well as the UK, are collectively seizing a (still shamefully rare) chance to shine in a leading opera house.

Tim Bano in The Stage:

Eric Greene’s Porgy is great, so is Nicole Cabell’s Bess – though she doesn’t quite cut through above the orchestra, her consonants and clarity get lost – but this isn’t really a showcase for them, it’s a team effort, and what a team.

photo: ENO/Kenton

Ivan Hewitt in the Telegraph:
George Gershwin’s only opera finally comes to ENO, in a lavish co-production with the all-black cast that its creators stipulated. It pleases the eye, and delivers knock-out choruses, sassy orchestral playing under conductor John Wilson, and heart-warming renditions of the big melodies such as “Summertime”. So a hit is pretty well guaranteed.

Michael Church in the Independent:

From the moment when Nadine Benjamin launches into her sweet rendition of “Summertime”, Gershwin’s bewitching string of solos and duets comes over with assurance; one of its high points is a snatch of vocal grace from Nozuko Teto as the Strawberry Woman. Playing under John Wilson’s direction, the orchestra valiantly honours Gershwin’s ambition to combine the drama and romance of Carmen with the beauty of Die Meistersinger.
Mark Shenton in London Theatre:

…what ENO can also bring to it is thrilling musicianship, too, with its resident orchestra under the powerful baton of John Wilson, and a truly massive cast. There are 23 named characters, plus a chorus of over 40, plus six additional actors and eight additional kids. You don’t get this in the West End (not even in 42nd Street).

And it’s downright astonishing that ENO have assembled a company of international black singers of such strength: not that they don’t exist (they clearly do!), but that they’ve gone to the trouble to cast their net so far and wide, including America, South Africa and Britain.

From the plaintive, heartbreaking rendition of “Summertime” with which ENO Harewood artist Nadime Benjamin opens the show as Clara, to the stunning and heartbreaking title performances of Eric Greene and Nicole Cabell, it is performed with alternating notes of tenderness and fury.

Boyd Tonkin on theartsdesk:

This cast, though, shows terrific strength in depth. From Latonia Moore’s commanding gospel fervour as Serena to Donovan Singletary’s smoothly forceful Jake, Catfish Row emerged as a slum crammed with stars. It’s worth pointing out that South African singers took no fewer than five character parts, and they all excelled – whether Nozuko Teto’s strawberry seller or Njabulo Madlala’s Jim. At times, this almost felt like a Cape Town Opera benefit night. Their welcome presence proved again what an extraordinary nursery for the whole world of music theatre has developed at the tip of Africa. 


  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Sounds excellent and thank goodness he has not used the stupid American politically correct “people of colour”. Hopefully this production will give ENO the Filipino it badly needs.

    • Scotty says:

      The reason America’s use “people of color” is to avoid “negro,” which took on derogatory meaning, especially with assorted mispronunciations, during the civil rights era, “black,” which is inaccurate, and “colored,” which was the term Jim Crow iconography and signage used to refer to African-Americans.

      Why do you find it distasteful to call people by the name they find comfortable? Do you have something better to offer?

      • Elizabeth Owen says:

        When I worked in Ohio in the 70’s African Americans were proud to be called black. Given that white is a colour, we are all people of colour. I don’t understand why Americans are so fixated on what colour people’s skin is.

        • Scotty says:

          That’s what some African-Americans preferred then. Now some prefer something else. Just as you once preferred “Aryan” but now settle on white, even though I guess you’re really pink. But I’ll refer to you however you like. Honky. Ofay. Gringa. Whitey. You decide.

          Are you really asking why African-Americans are concerned with racial discrimination? If there were none, terms such as people of color wouldn’t be necessary.

          • Elizabeth Owen says:

            I have never referred to myself as Aryan, it’s an insult but you probably meant that. No I’m very pale, washed out really. As I say in this country we are not fixated so don’t use any of the nasty words you suggest. Weird.
            It’s appaling that the Ku Klux clan still exists and people believe in white supremacy, pathetic!

          • Scotty says:

            I see. There are terms that you would rather that I not use when referring to you. But you want to be the one deciding which terms are “stupid” and “politically correct” when referring to others. Why not just call people what they want to be called?

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Er…never Aryan (outside Nazi Germany).

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Never Aryan (outside Nazi Germany)

      • Nik says:

        “‘black,’ which is inaccurate”
        Surely, by the same token, “white” is also inaccurate. But both terms are universally understood, and there is no reason to take offence at either of them.
        Perhaps we should stick to IC1 and IC2?

        • Scotty says:

          I’ll call you whatever you want, brother. That’s the point. The objection to “black” also had to do with the negativity associated with black. Black sheep. Black ball. And so on. It’s not so hard to refer to people by whichever term they choose.

          • Nik says:

            It’s not that simple, is it. There are 8 billion people in the world and for all I know they all have different preferences as to what they want to be called. Firstly, I couldn’t possibly ask them all, and secondly, if we want to be able to communicate, there need to be some terms that are universally understood and that we can use even if somebody somewhere is going to take offence (which they will).
            “People of colour” is a fairly new term that seems to have replaced some previously acceptable terms, and I can guarantee that there are people currently plotting to brand it as offensive and come up with something else.
            Incidentally, do you find the B in “BAME” offensive, and if so, what should be used instead?

          • Scotty says:

            How did me being offended get dragged into this? My objection was to Elizabeth calling a term that some people choose for themselves “stupid.”

          • Nik says:

            My point is not about you personally. My point is that if everyone gets to choose how they want to be called, then soon enough we won’t have a common language anymore.

          • Scotty says:

            It’s not that hard, Nik. If you don’t know what a person prefers to be called, make your best guess. If they correct you, use the term they provide. If you decide instead to tell them that their preferred term is “stupid,” as Elizabeth did, it reflects poorly on you. For example, I prefer to be called “Jew” rather than “kike” or “heebie.” If someone called me, without malice, kike, and I corrected them, and they told me that was stupid and continued to call me kike, I would know they had a way of thinking that would prevent us from having a relationship.

          • Nik says:

            But it’s not just about what you call each individual. For example, if the government wants to know what proportion of the population is black/of colour, they need one term that they can use, can you not see that. Whichever term they choose, some people will be fine with it, other people will get angry.

          • Scotty says:

            Again, that’s a different issue. In the post that started all of this the poster said that a term that a group of people used to refer to themselves was a “stupid American politically correct” term. The idea that these people were lobbying to have everyone use that term was introduced by you.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    I wrote fillip honestly. I hate predictive text, sorry

  • Brian Bell says:

    Autocorrect is the enema of the people.

  • John Rook says:

    The above contributions win Bronze, Silver and Gold in this year’s Best Comments Awards.

  • Chris says:

    Maybe turn off predictive, autocorrect etc in your settings under ‘keyboard’?