PORGY AND BESS: Music by George Gershwin
Cape Town Opera, touring the UK
Runs: 2h 45m, one interval.
Review: Alexander Ray, 07 06 12, Hippodrome, Birmingham
Special but flawed.
Cape Town Opera’s visit to the UK with Porgy and Bess is most welcome. A rare chance to see this important work.
It’s beautifully sung. Porgy and Bess contains some of what have become the most famous of songs – Summertime; I’ve Got Plenty of Nothing; You’re My Woman Now . . . Hearing them in context is like hearing them for the first time. They spring at you, taking you by surprise; the effect is breathtaking.
But for all this, the work itself is not easy; the collision of a Romantic opera tradition and jazzy-bluesy black South American tradition is not comfortable. The work itself almost denies definition – musical or opera? It’s a handful of towering works like Porgy and Bess, stemming from the US, that created earthquakes in the Musical world and necessitated the coining of the all-encompassing Music Theatre. So it’s not comfortable? So what – who said good art should be easy?
Cape Town Opera transport the inhabitants of Catfish Row to South Africa; rightly so for the rich culture of choral singing in South Africa must, in part, give rise to the rich tones of the ensemble choruses.
The opening is sensational – Summertime coming from nowhere and giving us flight.
But the staging frequently lets the drama down. The cruel shift from the lyrical opening to the vicious and explosive violence within the society is lost through poor acting. And the ensemble frequently coming to the front and singing straight out is distressingly old-fashioned. Porgy’s disability is poorly represented with an actor vigorously crawling around on his knees.
However, Porgy’s voice is sublime, and the Porgy and Bess duets are moments of great beauty.