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Sunday, 08 May 2022

PORGY and BESS @ Wahnfried

Montagu Events - PORGY and BESS @ Wahnfried
At Wahnfried
On Sunday 8th May we have Gershwin’s opera PORGY and BESS (2h38mins).

Porgy and Bess was first performed in Boston on September 30, 1935, before it moved to Broadway in New York City. It featured a cast of classically trained African-American singers—a daring artistic choice at the time. After an initially unpopular public reception, a 1976 Houston Grand Opera production gained it new popularity, and it is now one of the best known and most frequently performed operas.
The libretto of Porgy and Bess tells the story of Porgy, a disabled black street beggar living in the slums of Charleston. It deals with his attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin' Life, her drug dealer.

This San Francisco Porgy and Bess is an outstanding release; a live staging of Gershwin's masterpiece that does it the fullest possible justice, superbly sung and conducted, in a very sympathetic and intelligent production. --International Record Review, May 2014

‘’ For me, this opera is a slice of life which for 1935, may have been ahead of its time. The reason is the libretto and songs are well written, by whites attempting to understand a part of the Southern Afro-American experience in the great depression. It certainly is not racist. Growing up under apartheid in South Africa, I know what racism is. (I was told to leave because of my stance against it). This opera was written by people who were not, and wished to show how people in these peculiar circumstances dealt with life, and the humanity they still maintained, against all odds. "Those white folks tried to put one over me" sings Porgy. " I aint done nothing wrong, sir", says the Honey man when the police take him to the station. I think for the time this opera was subtly subversive, for Gershwin shows sympathy for the Afro American plight. "Oh, Bess, Oh Where's my Bess", shows this understanding. A truly heart rendering aria and ending. A opera which is sung in the way the Afro-American's spoke at the time.
George Gershwin truly liked Afro American music and the musicians and wished to pay homage to them. He certainly did not want to offend them. But the book, play and opera was controversial. With two killings. Bess who is not married, drinks and takes drugs. Has a child by Porgy.(when you had to be married in those times). A thug Crown and a drug peddler, Sportin Life. Also, the use of spiritual songs in this environment. No wonder there was an uproar from the African- American community, who were mainly upstanding, and were not all into drugs. But it could be argued, America was in the middle of the great depression, and some poor whites lived that way. But the Afro Americans probably would reply, that even if it was set in 1935, that there was segregation in the South and afterwards. They were judged by their colour, and could not go to white hotels, cinemas and eateries, bars and sit on buses with whites. Also, could not have jobs that whites had. An opera it is, not a hybrid, but a great American folk opera. For Gershwin used elements of the musical, classical music, operatic convention, mainly spirituals, blues and jazz. In the same way, American Phillip Glass later did, by including modern pop music, amid minimalism to create opera.’’ reviewer

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