Overture Magazine - 2015-2016 Season March-April 2016 - Page 33

program notes { on October 10, 1935. The audience loved the show, especially Gershwin’s inspired music and the powerful cast that sang it. But critics were more reserved. Especially they questioned what kind of work Porgy and Bess was — musical, operetta, or opera? Gershwin maintained that it was an opera, and he had indeed followed the operatic conventions of using continuous music and casting the dialogue largely in sung recitative. Over the decades, the power and universality of Porgy and Bess has largely won out. It has moved people to tears all over the world. African-Americans also had criticisms. They decried the show as a white production, created, directed, and conducted by white men despite its black cast. Some found the dialect language demeaning and the depiction of African-Americans as ignorant, superstitious and living on the shady side of the law, insulting. But over the decades, the power and universality of Porgy and Bess has largely won out. It has moved people to tears all over the world. It has created new stars —notably Leontyne Price and William Warfield who played the title characters in a production toured by the State Department in the 1950s. Fifty years after its premiere, Porgy and Bess scored the ultimate establishment coup when the Metropolitan Opera gave it a new production in 1985 under James Levine. For many, the work remains unchallenged as the Great American Opera. A Guide to the Drama and Its Musical Highlights Act I, scene 1: After a brief orchestral Prelude, the curtain opens on Catfish Row. It is evening, and a jazz piano plays in the background. Home from work, the men of the Row have begun a crap game. Clara, wife of Jake the fisherman, sings a lullaby to her baby (“Summertime”). Jake then takes the baby and sings it a more cynical song (“A Woman is a Sometime Thing”). The crippled Porgy joins the game (“Oh, Little Stars”), followed by the sinister stevedore Crown, with his flashily dressed woman, Bess, on his arm. Crown is drunk and soon gets into a brawl with Robbins (powerful orchestral fugue), killing him with a cotton hook. Crown flees, leaving Bess behind; as the police arrive, Porgy is the only one who will give her shelter. Scene 2: Robbins’ body is laid out in his wife Serena’s room with a saucer on his chest to receive donations for his burial; the chorus mourns him (“Gone, Gone, Gone”). Porgy urges everyone to be generous. Serena sings an anguished lament (“My Man’s Gone Now”). The collection amounts to only $15, but the undertaker promises to give Robbins a decent burial. Act II, scene 1: It is a month later, and the residents of Catfish Row are preparing for a holi ^H