Is this the year Porgy and Bess finally comes home?

Later today the Met will announce that its next season will open with Gershwin’s opera in an English/Dutch National Opera co-production.

Eric Owens and Alfred Walker will share the role of Porgy. Angel Blue sings Bess. Latonia Moore and Golda Schultz are also signed up.

It took the Met half a century after its 1935 Boston premiere to produce America’s greatest opera. Even now, Porgy has yet to be considered part of its repertory.

Elsewhere, it makes giant waves.

Last year’s ENO show was the company’s biggest triumph in a decade, there’s an English countryhouse production scheduled for the summer and the opera is presently going down huge at Vienna’s Volksoper.


Why did it take the Met so long?


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  • And why has it taken them so long to bring Akhnaten to their stage after it has been so well received in Europe for so long? I realize that Glass-hatred runs pretty deep and wide here and I don’t expect anyone to agree with me that it is truly a masterpiece; but you’d think the Met might have seen some butter for its bread long ago.

  • I would guess that the reason it took the Met so long to mount Porgy and Bess is that it is not an opera, but a musical. The Met has a long tradition of avoiding musicals and most operettas. The late, great Joan Sutherland wanted to do the Merry Widow there and they wouldn’t do it for her. Their loss…

    • Porgy is an opera! Through and through. One of the most complex classical scores ever created for the American stage. It “suffers” under this classification as many will not allow an opera to have as many “hits” , but there is nothing in the score using such American jazz idioms in its writing, that indicates it needs anything in casting besides large operatic voices (Sporting Life is the only character role, arguably) and an enormous orchestration.

      The eight part choral writing is very difficult in places as is the rhythmic and tempo complexity of the entire work. The recent watered down Broadway production did the true piece not a bit of good. But listen to the entire score and hear the strains of Strauss, Wagner, Puccini and Gershwin’s own voice come to life.

    • Porgy and Bess is an opera. The fact that it’s more associated with with Broadway has to do with several reasons that you can read about on Wikipedia.

      I suspect the lack of performances has more to do with the fact that the complete score runs about three hours without intermission. Add in intermissions and you’re over 4 hours. Outside of Wagner, there aren’t that many operas that run so long — most of the repertoire tops out at 3.5 hours.

      BTW, The Merry Window has been added to the repertoire — performed 49 times since 2000. Die Fledermaus, which is operetta, has been performed 233 times — more than Cosi (201), Das Rheingold (168), and Salome (163).

    • They did it a few seasons ago with Renee Flemming and Kelly O’Hara, a Broadway star. Die Fliedermaus has been done t the Met quite regularly.
      I saw Porgy and Bess in London last November.
      Easily, the best performance I attended in 2018, and I do get out regularly. Terrific production with great voices, all operatic. You really need operatic voices to do it justice

    • “I would guess that the reason it took the Met so long to mount Porgy and Bess is that it is not an opera, but a musical.”

      LOL. And Magic Flute isn’t an opera either.

      • Isn’t it sometimes called a Singspiel? But the real question is, who will produce Die Zauberharfe, Schubert’s melodrama? And all the other melodramas? We need a Lyric Theater for them, and also the great plays with great incidental music. A theater with a real orchestra. Who has that?

    • You are so wrong, it is an opera, not a musical. It is in no way like a musical, other than having some dialogue. It could only be compared to a melodrama or operetta, but it’s neither of those, either. It was composed as an opera, and it has a folk theme. It requires singers of great legit technique, not actor-singers.

  • The Met has performed Porgy and Bess 55 times, tnough not since 1990. Perso nally, I always felt tnat Porgy belonged in the realm of Broadway (commercial) theater. If the Met performs Porgy and Bess will we get a Broadway production of Parsifal??

    • When NL says it’s not part of their repertory, I think he means part of their standard rotation of operas that come back regularly, like Tosca/ Boheme/ Traviata et al. Pity, because, like those warhorses, it’s both a good piece and a crowd-pleaser.

      • I doubt if it will ever be part of any opera house’s repertory. First of all you have to have an all-black cast and chorus. Secondly, while it’s good music, it’s not great. (That said, Robbins’ funeral scene is as great as almost anything I’ve seen in opera.) And I say that as a Gershwin lover who owns every DVD and CD version of the piece, and has seen it live three times. It’s rather over-long in places, something that has been noted by numerous folks more knowledgeable than me. Even Gershwin realized that.

        A friend of mine conducted an all-Mongolian cast for the Mongolian National opera, which required special permission from the Gershwin Estate.

  • Porgy and Bess is certainly an opera. Except for some dialogue for the white characters (a dramatic gesture in itself) it is all sung, for mostly classically trained voices (which Todd Duncan and Anne Brown clearly had). When presented as an opera in a proper opera house the opera can be played as written, including such important numbers as the Buzzard Song, apparently cut because Todd Duncan said it would be too strenuous to sing eight times a week in a Broadway style performance run. The Buzzard Song is an operatic monologue in the same dramatic style as Pari Siamo, and is extremely important as a musico-dramatic Central point of the opera.

    Porgy and Bess has a Cosima problem, with Ira Gershwin’s estate refusing to let Porgy and Bess be played as any other opera. The restrictions placed by the estate makes it rather difficult for many opera houses to slot it into their season.

  • Thanks to J. R. and Monsoon for their espousals of “Porgy’s” genre. Studded with a clutch of known-to-everyone tunes it may be — but can’t we say the same about “Carmen”?

  • Interesting that nobody has stated the most obvious challenge for any house to produce Porgy and Bess – that being the Gershwin estate’s requirement that the cast be entirely African-American. Assembling the appropriate cast, dealing with availability issues, etc – is costly and complicated.

    • That is hardly so. There are ample numbers of fine black singers, and there is a constantly touring production in Europe; many singers spend their entire careers performing Porgy.

      • You might be right, but I’d say it would be challenging to do that as regularly recurring repertory. It is a big, big and quite long work, and yes the race requirement adds to the challenge.

        Tell me more about the touring production in Europe. I’m curious.

  • Justin Hopkins should be in the cast as well.
    There was a great production of Porgy at Radio City Music Hall in the mid-1980s.
    I hope there aren’t any revisionisms in this production.

  • I have always wondered what George might have done with Porgy had he lived. Not a lot of time went by before he was dead in Los Angeles.

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