So how was ENO’s Porgy? Possibly the best show in town

So how was ENO’s Porgy? Possibly the best show in town


norman lebrecht

October 11, 2018

It’s close to midnight and I’m in no mood to equivocate.

The new production of Porgy and Bess was the best piece of ensemble playing and singing I have seen at English National Opera for years. The infusion of American singers and lots of chorus kids from outer-London schools created a sense of engagement in which the cast were not just singing with each other, but for each other. The unison effect was overwhelming.

Eric Greene is a magnificent Porgy. He looks about eight foot tall and calls to mind the prophet Hosea going out to redeem his wife from her latest affair.

Nicole Cabell can really act. She conveys Bess’s addictive personality with both hope and resignation, submitting to each man as if she has no other option.

The tenor Nmon Ford is a truly menacing Crown and Frederick Ballantine is as sinister a Sportin’ Life as you could wish to see and hear. Latonia Moore is luxury cast as Serena.

Not one of them made a superfluous gesture. John Wilson achieved clinical detachment and real passion in his conducting and the ENO orchestra and chorus were on cracking form with some gorgeous solos from principal flute, cello and clarinet.

Parents of some of the young chorus members diversified the audience and intensified it. The final accolade came close to explosive.

It was one of the great nights at ENO.

Sadly, most of my row was vacant.

The production is shared with Amsterdam and the Met. You really don’t want to miss it.



  • Opera Spook says:

    Norman Nmon’s ford is most definitely a baritone not a tenor. Crown is a baritone role. But you are right about everything else it was a fabulous night at ENO and a spellbinding performance!

  • Olassus says:

    Improperly billed as “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin.”

    “The Gershwins’ ” part reminds us all of the power and greed of the Gershwin estate, prolonged and magnified by bad U.S. law.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I won’t read a bad word about George and Ira Gershwin. Without the music that ‘opera’ would never have happened. George deserved to have his name in lights; a MAGNIFICENT SCORE.

      • Olassus says:

        No bad words from me about either George or Ira.

        Separately, there is a comma after Heyward in the billing.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          I think P&B, along with “Showboat” and “West Side Story” are the three greatest pieces of American theatre music of the 20th century. There are some other fine shows, to be sure, but I think these 3 are all unique for very different reasons.

    • Anson says:

      Although ridiculous, I had thought that the “The Gershwins'” title only referred to the modified and stripped down Broadway version from several years back. I think the last production of Porgy I saw was the Spoleto Festival in 2016 or 2017 and it wasn’t billed with the “The Gershwins'” nonsense.

    • buxtehude says:

      Olassus makes a good point. George died in 1937; he had nothing to do with the later stewardship of this “property.” Ira had little to do with the lyrics (apart from Ain’t Neccessarily and Boat Dat’s Leavin and a few colabrorations), compared to Hayward, who wrote most of the rest and the important ones (especially Summertime and My Man’s Gone Now), as well as the novel and (with Dorothy) the play, upon which the opera was based. He died in 1940.

      Of course it’s the music, but Hayward’s lyrics (which preceded the compositions) unquestionably inspired George to greater heights.

      “The Gershwins'” in big type, is part of a shameful effort to airbrush Hayward out of the picture. This first-time lyricist turned out to be one of the greatest lyricists of all time, and an important force in making Porgy and Bess of one the greatest operas of all time. Both George and Ira recognized the scope of his contribution and loved him.

  • Graham Eagland says:

    “clinical detachment” – what the hell’s that?