Diane Paulus and Suzan-Lori Parks have protected and cared for this theatrical baby as well as the actors on stage coo over Clara's swaddled infant boy. Together they have tightened and tweaked and beautifully improved the original opera. Audra McDonald gives a stunning performance. By , George Gershwin was an almost mythic figure in American culture.
The year-old composer's jazzy rhythmic music found homes in both Carnegie Hall and on Broadway. His classical compositions, like "Rhapsody in Blue" and "An American in Paris," were quickly becoming orchestral standards, while year after year, he and his lyric-writing brother Ira churned out musical comedy hits, like "Girl Crazy" and "Of Thee I Sing.
This is a composition in the form of variations on a tune, and the tune is 'I Got Rhythm. But ever since he'd been a young man, George Gershwin yearned to write an opera. He had experimented with the forum in , writing a minute one-act called "Blue Monday. He then turned to an idea that had interested him for a while, a novel by DuBose Heyward called "Porgy.
Gershwin thought it had the makings of an opera and wrote to Heyward. A native of Charleston, DuBose Heyward had based his novel on newspaper accounts of a local panhandler who'd been convicted of murder.
The book was a huge success, and Heyward and his wife were adapting it as a stage play. Heyward asked Gershwin if he'd be willing to wait until after the play was finished.
Since the composer was involved in other projects, he said yes. The play became a big hit, and for a while songwriters Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein tried turning it into a musical for Al Jolson to perform in blackface. Gershwin was occupied with other work, but he continued corresponding with Heyward. Towards the end of , the two men finally started working on their folk opera.
According to his brother Ira, George Gershwin wanted to soak up as much of the musical atmosphere of South Carolina as possible. Gershwin was impressed and began asking Brown to come and sing the songs as he composed them for Porgy. At that meeting, he told her, "I want you to know, Miss Brown, that henceforth and forever after, George Gershwin's opera will be known as Porgy and Bess.
After the Broadway run, a tour started on January 27, , in Philadelphia and traveled to Pittsburgh and Chicago before ending in Washington, D. During the Washington run, the cast—as led by Todd Duncan—protested segregation at the National Theatre. Eventually management gave in to the demands, resulting in the first integrated audience for a performance of any show at that venue.
Avon Long took on the role of Sportin' Life for the first time, a role he would continue to play in many productions over a long career. The noted director and producer Cheryl Crawford produced professional stock theater in Maplewood, New Jersey , for three very successful seasons. The last of these closed with Porgy and Bess , which she co-produced with John Wildberg. In re-fashioning it in the style of musical theatre which Americans were used to hearing from Gershwin, Crawford produced a drastically cut version of the opera compared with the first Broadway staging.
The orchestra was reduced, the cast was halved, and many recitatives were reduced to spoken dialog. Having seen the performance, theater owner Lee Shubert arranged for Crawford to bring her production to Broadway. The show opened at the Majestic Theatre in January Moten was such a success that Bess became her signature role. The Crawford production ran for nine months and was far more successful financially than the original.
The 12"-diameter 78 rpm, glass base, lacquer-coated disks were transferred to open-reel tape on February 6, Performed during the Nazi occupation of the country, this performance was notable for being performed by an all-white cast made up in blackface.
After 22 sold-out performances, the Nazis closed the production. Blevins Davis and Robert Breen produced a revival in which restored much of the music cut in the Crawford version, including many of the recitatives.
It divided the opera into two acts, with the intermission occurring after Crown forces Bess to stay on Kittiwah Island. This version restored the work to a more operatic form, though not all of the recitatives were retained.
In this version, Porgy and Bess was warmly received throughout Europe. The role of Clara was played by a young Maya Angelou. Price and Warfield met and wed while on the tour. It later toured North America. A historic yet tense premiere took place in Moscow in December ; it was during the Cold War and the first time an American theater group had been to the Soviet capital since the Bolshevik Revolution.
During the s and early s, Porgy and Bess mostly languished on the shelves, a victim of its perceived racism. Though new productions took place in and , along with a Vienna Volksoper premiere in again with William Warfield as Porgy , these did little to change many African Americans' opinions of the work.
Many music critics still had not accepted it as a true opera. A new staging of Porgy and Bess was produced by the Houston Grand Opera in under music director John DeMain ; it restored the complete original score for the first time. This version was very influential in turning the tide of opinion about the work.
For the first time, an American opera company, not a Broadway production company, had tackled the opera. This production was based on Gershwin's original full score. It did not incorporate the cuts and other changes which Gershwin had made before the New York premiere, nor the ones made for the Cheryl Crawford revival or the film version. It allowed the public to take in the operatic whole as first envisioned by the composer.
In this light, Porgy and Bess was accepted as an opera. The conductor was John DeMain. William Harwood , based on the Houston production. The Metropolitan Opera finally presented a production of Porgy and Bess in after considering it since the s. The conductor was James Levine. After an absence of nearly thirty years on the Met stage, the company staged the new London production conducted by David Robertson in Fall Trevor Nunn first tackled the work in an acclaimed production at England's Glyndebourne Festival.
The Trevor Nunn production was scenically expanded and videotaped for television in see below in "Television". These productions were also based on the "complete score," without incorporating Gershwin's revisions.
A semi-staged version of this production was performed at the Proms in The centennial celebration of the Gershwin brothers from to included a new production as well. It incorporated Gershwin's cuts made for the New York premiere, thus giving the audience an idea of what the opera sounded like on its Broadway opening. In October , its planned tour of the opera to Israel was criticised by Desmond Tutu.
Although that was the title given to this production, the television adaptation of Nunn's production had also used it. For this new production, he adapted the lengthy opera to fit the conventions of musical theatre.
Working with the Gershwin and Heyward estates, Nunn used dialogue from the original novel and subsequent Broadway stage play to replace the recitatives with naturalistic scenes. He did not use operatic voices in this production, but relied on musical theatre actors as leads. Gareth Valentine provided the musical adaptation. Despite mostly positive reviews,  Nunn's production closed months early due to poor box office. Fagbenle as Sportin' Life, and Cornell S. John as Crown.
Following Trevor Nunn's latest production of the work, the ART Porgy was the second production initiated by the Gershwin and Heyward estates to adapt the opera for the musical theatre stage. Again spoken dialogue, here written by Parks, replaced the opera's sung recitatives. Prior to the opening, Paulus, Parks and Murray made statements to the press about the production's primary goal being to "introduce the work to the next generation of theatergoers".
The production began previews on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in December and officially opened on January 12, Early reviews of the show were positive to mixed. All praised McDonald's performance of Bess, but critics were divided on the success of the adaptation, staging and setting.
Some praised the intimate scale of the drama and the believability of the performances; others found the staging to be unfocused and the settings to lack atmosphere. The production ran through September 23, The production was directed by Timothy Sheader , and also used the book adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks , and music adapted by Diedre Murray.
With the exception of the small speaking roles, all of the characters are black. The opera begins with a short introduction which segues into an evening in Catfish Row. Jasbo Brown entertains the community with his piano playing. Clara, a young mother, sings a lullaby to her baby " Summertime " as the working men prepare for a game of craps "Roll them Bones".
One of the players, Robbins, scorns his wife Serena's demands that he not play, retorting that on a Saturday night, a man has the right to play. Clara's husband, the fisherman Jake, tries his own lullaby "A Woman is a Sometime Thing" with little effect. Little by little, other characters in the opera enter Catfish Row, among them Mingo, another fisherman, and Jim, a stevedore who, tired of his job, decides to give it up and join Jake and the other fishermen.
Porgy, a disabled beggar, enters on his goat cart to organize the game. Peter, an elderly "honey man" [ clarification needed ] returns, singing his vendor's call. Crown, a strong and brutal stevedore, storms in with his woman, Bess, and buys cheap whiskey and some " Happy Dust " off the local dope peddler, Sportin' Life. Bess is shunned by the women of the community, especially the pious Serena and the matriarchal cookshop owner Maria, but Porgy softly defends her.
The game begins. One by one, the players get crapped out, leaving only Robbins and Crown, who has become extremely drunk. When Robbins wins, Crown attempts to prevent him from taking his winnings. A brawl ensues, which ends when Crown stabs Robbins with a cotton hook, killing him. Crown runs, telling Bess to fend for herself but that he will be back for her when the heat dies down.
Sportin' Life gives her a dose of happy dust and offers to take her with him when he goes to New York, but she rejects him. He flees, and Bess begins to pound on doors, but is rejected by all of the residents of Catfish Row, with the exception of Porgy, who lets her in.
The mourners sing a spiritual to Robbins "Gone, Gone, Gone". To raise money for his burial, a saucer is placed on his chest for the mourners' donations "Overflow". Bess enters with Porgy and attempts to donate to the burial fund, but Serena rejects her money until Bess explains that she is now living with Porgy.
A white detective enters and coldly tells Serena that she must bury her husband the next day, or his body will be given to medical students for dissection. He suddenly accuses Peter of Robbins's murder. Peter denies his guilt and says Crown was the murderer. The Detective orders Peter to be arrested as a material witness , whom he will force to testify against Crown.
Serena laments her loss in " My Man's Gone Now ". The undertaker enters. The saucer holds only fifteen dollars of the needed twenty-five, but he agrees to bury Robbins as long as Serena promises to pay him back. Bess, who has been sitting in silence slightly apart from the rest of those gathered, suddenly begins to sing a gospel song and the chorus joyfully join in, welcoming her into the community.
I'm On My Way. Best Revival of a Musical. Best Direction of a Musical. Best Orchestrations. Best Costume Design of a Musical. Best Lighting Design of a Musical. Best Sound Design of a Musical. Outstanding Revival of a Musical. Outstanding Actor in a Musical. Outstanding Actress in a Musical. Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical. Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical.
View Graph. Statistics supplied are courtesy of The Broadway League. The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess Statistics. Week Ending. People Songs Awards Statistics. Bonnie and Clyde Dec 01, Dec 30, She Loves Me Dec 05, Dec 05, Stick Fly Dec 08, Feb 26,Oct 15, · The third complete Porgy and Bess, the Houston Opera performance on RCA, is okay but relatively superficial and lacking in nuance, with too many concessions to contemporary sensibilities--Gershwin dished up for people who like Andrew Lloyd Webber/5(6).