is  Superb

By Iride Aparicio

Photos Courtesy: The Metropolitan Opera

SILICON VALLEY, CA -- Those living in Silicon Valley had the opportunity to watch the dazzling Metropolitan Opera  HD Live transmission of  The Gershwins' PORGY and BESS, starring bass-baritone ERIC OWENS in the role of Porgy, the disabled street beggar living in the slums of Charleston, and soprano ANGEL BLUE in the role of Crown's lover Bess.. Other character are: Bess' lover Crown FREDERICK BALLENTINE, her dope dealer Sportin' life (ALFRED WALKER) and members of the community:  GOLDA SCHULTZ as Clara, LATONIA MOORE as Serena, DENYCE GRAVES as  María, and DONOVAN SINGLETARY as Jake, in an encore presentation (February 5, 8, and 15, in  local Cinemas) with Tony, Grammy and Emmy Award-winner AUDRA McDONALD--who won her fifth Tony for her Broadway's performance as Bess in 2012-- hosting the transmission.

PORGY and BESS  is a dramatic folk opera in three acts, (two in this presentation) set in Catfish Row, an African American fishermen's village located in the dock side area of Charleston county in South Caroline. The opera was  based in DuBOSE HEYWARD's novel, Porgy  that was published in 1925.

Impressed by the plot of the novel, in 1926,  GEORGE GERSHWIN wrote HEYWARD about collaborating, with him as a composer, on a version of  Porgy as an opera. HEYWARD liked the idea, but because of  the composer's obligations, the work was delayed for years. Finally, in 1934,  HEYWARD and GERSHWIN got together and travelled to an island in South Carolina with the sole purpose to absorb the original sounds,  accents and rhythms of the African American Speech, and be able to portray them  realistically. HEYWARD and George's brother IRA wrote the libretto and the  lyrics, in English,  and George finished the music in one year.

Because for his first  opera's casting, GERSHWIN had assembled a strong cast of African American singers with voices who could balance Jazz and opera, he expected his opera to be to be a great success, but when PORGY and BESS premiered at the Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, MA on September 2, l935 and on October l0, of the same year, in New York City, PORGY and BESS  met with limited success. At that time, the opera world was not ready for a "black opera," and the Jazz world was not at all ready for "an opera."

During the years, however,  the quality in PORGY and BESS,  won  world's acceptance and now it is recognized as one of the best American Operas.  

The cast of PORGY and BESS with  Owens (Porgy) on  the steps

And in this version, Producer  JAMES ROBINSON's makes PORGY and BESS, one of the best productions of the opera, by reuniting outstanding individuals in the cast starting with conductor DAVID ROBERTSON, the singers/actors, the set designer MICHAEL YEARGAN the costume designer CATHERINE ZUBER,  the lighting designer DONALD HOLDER, the projection designer LUKE HALLS, the  choreographer CAMILLE A. BROWN, and the Fight director GARY HALVORSON who, working together, made the production superb.

What distinguishes this production is its realism. Everything in this production looks real starting with the set, representing the slums of a fishing village. Realistic also, are  the character's actions, full of feeling and natural: Clara (SCHULTZ) cradling her new baby  as she sings him Summertime  in her flute-sounding  beautiful soprano coloratura voice . Porgy, singing to Bess, Bess you is My Woman Now, and she responding: From Dis Minute I'm tellin' You, I keep Dis Vow: Porgy, I's Yo'  Woman now. Serena (MOORE) praying to God and contrasting her prayers Sportin'Life (BALLENTINE) telling us, in a song, that the things that you are liable to read in the Bible It ain't necessarily so. The men on the street,  playing together a craps game, drinking, and fighting, with one of them  killing another one with a hook used to cut cotton. 

The act ends with a realistic scene in which the audience watches a  'raw' depiction of the  passionate encounter of Bess (BLUE) and Crown (WALKER) on the beach after BESS misses the picnic's boat

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L-R ERIC OWENS as Porgy and ANGEL BLUE as Bess

After that Bess returns home very sick, but with Serena (MOORE) leading the prayers she is healed. Sadly, two storms are brewing in the horizon. One, will be created by Crown (WALKER) when he returns to  take  Bess, now Porgy's woman,  away from him. The other, is a  real storm, realistically represented in a dark silent stage, punctuated by drummer beats, representing the thunders, and. lights, representing flashes of  lightning bolts. We hear the cries of the singers in choir, in the background. Fast rhythms, dissonances, see people running to the shore, among them the distraught  fishermen's wives trying to see, floating on the raging waves, their husband's  fishing boats  returning home. Visually, it is a powerful scene. Dramatically the preparation for the end. 

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ERIC OWENS as Porgy leaving the village

Crown (WALKER) returns and he is met by Porgy, but things turn different that we all expected.

During  the storm, many boats sank and people died but Porgy's love for Bess, his woman, remains alive.  She is now gone, but Porgy asks the villagers to fetch him his wheel cart, the one he uses to transport himself in long distances, because this time Porgy is going to New York.

With masterful directing of the music and in the acting, feeling in the singing, and realism in the performance, this METROPOLITAN OPERA HD Live presentation of  The Gershwins' PORGY and BESS is superb. If interested, you still can see it. It will be shown for the last time in movie theatres on February 15.