The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting
archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new
shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of
watching live theatre
Porgy And Bess
Metropolitan Opera Summer 2020
This Metropolitan Opera
Company production of the Gershwin-Heyward opera was broadcast on
American television in February 2020 and available online through the
summer. It is far more successful than not, the only weaknesses lying
in a couple of the secondary performances.
Foremost among the
attractions is Angel Blue's Bess, Blue's crystal-pure soprano
achieving heart-stopping beauty in Bess You Is My Woman Now and I
Loves You Porgy. And – with shared credit to director James
Robinson – Blue doesn't just make pretty noises with her mouth, but
acts the words and the role movingly.
Eric Owens' Porgy is a
less flashy role – while she soars through Bess You Is My Woman Now
he remains grounded. So it may take a while to realize that his solid
support is what allows her to soar, just as his no-nonsense
performance throughout anchors the opera in emotional reality.
is also a more mobile Porgy than some, limited only by a single
crutch and therefore relying less on easy pathos.
Both stars also
shine through outstanding musical enunciation, making the Met's
subtitles superfluous. If only that could be said of the rest of the
cast, too many of whom (including the chorus) fall into the opera
singer's failing of sacrificing clear diction to undifferentiated
open vowels and tremolo, making the subtitles as necessary as they
would be in an Italian opera.
disappointment here is
Golda Schultz's Clara, who opens the opera with a Summertime almost
completely lacking in consonants. (When Bess reprises the song later,
Angel Blue puts Schultz to shame and shows us what it should have
Elsewhere, Fred Erick
Ballentine has been skilfully
directed to make Sportin' Life seem less like he wandered in from
some musical comedy in the theatre next door than is too often the
case. Not a flashy dresser, he frequently blends in with the crowd,
and he makes Ain't Necessarily So and There's A Boat feel more a part
of the opera's musical vocabulary and less like interpolations.
glimpses of Camille A. Brown's Alvin Ailey-style choreography leave
us wishing for more.
A note on the credits.
make the Met call this 'The Gershwins' Porgy And Bess,' which is
doubly unfortunate, first because that label was also used for the
musically-emasculated easier-to-sing theatre version of 2006, and
second because the libretto and most of the lyrics are taken from the
original play by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward.
No less a judge than Stephen Sondheim has written '[DuBose] Heyward's lyrics for Porgy And Bess are, as a set, the most beautiful and powerful in our musical-theatre history.' Give credit where it's due.
Receive alerts when we post new reviews