*Porgy and Bess,* 1/15/20
Barbara, Leith, Jere, Dale, Richard, and I saw *Porgy and Bess* at the Met on 1/15/20. This was a new production, the Met hadn't done the opera since 1990. I'd never seen the opera before, though I saw the 2012 Broadway musical version, *The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess,* which is a separate entity.
Let me tell you a funny story about showing up at the theater, before I get to my review proper: the woman ahead of Jere was sitting in a pricey seat, and we were (of course) sitting up in the clouds. The ticket taker said to the woman, with a warm smile and a melodic lilt to her voice, "Good evening, ma'am. Downstairs, and to your right." She took Jere's ticket, scowled, and barked, "TOP FLOOR."
*Porgy and Bess* is an opera written in 1935 with music by George Gershwin and a libretto by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, based on Heyward's novel *Porgy* and the play *Porgy,* which Heyward wrote with his wife, Dorothy Heyward. This new production at the Met opened the current season, played for seven performances and was scheduled for seven more performances in January and February. The production was such a hot ticket that the Met added three extra performances later in February, something they had never done before.
I loved it, much more than I thought I would. With reservations! There are problems with the show: it's too long, the music isn't consistently inspired, and the issue of three white men writing about an African-American community is complicated. But what's good about the show is so good, it drew me in and won me over. The thing that made the biggest impact on me was the love story of Porgy and Bess. They're not young, compared to your typical opera couple, and their lives have not been easy. This gives their coming together lots of impact. "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" had me in tears because I was so moved by these two people coming together. Here are Eric Owens and Angel Blue singing a bit of the duet.
Eric Owens played Porgy. I've heard him 10-15 different times, have always been impressed with him, but I've never heard him sing so beautifully. I thought of when I saw Anna Netrebko in *Eugene Onegin* a few years ago - - I'd only heard her in Italian roles, and it was a revelation to hear her singing in her native Russian, her singing was so much more colorful, her connection to the text was so much deeper. That's what happened with Owens, his dedication to the character and the music was complete. Angel Blue played Bess. She sang beautifully but I might have wanted a little more drama. Bess is an unusually complex character, I think only Janáček wrote a female character who was so complex.
The music was surprisingly rich and varied, lots of extraordinary moments of inventive orchestration and unexpected harmonies. Gershwin really was a composer and not just a songwriter. The orchestra sounded fantastic, conducted by David Robertson. The banjo in "I Got Plenty o' Nothin' " was a special delight. Is there another opera anywhere near the standard rep that has a banjo in the pit?
I loved what choreographer Camille A. Brown did, I thought the dancing was marvelous. I especially loved hearing the dancers stomp their feet on the wooden floor. Dale also loved it, but our other friends hated the dancing and really hated the stomping on the floor. But hey, that's what makes America great!
The ending of the opera was something else. There's a trio for Porgy, Serena, and Maria near the end that knocked me out, it was the most operatic moment in the score, with all three characters singing together, each of them singing something different, the voices weaving around each other. And the final number, "Oh Lord, I'm On My Way" had me completely dissolved in tears. Such exultant music, so beautifully sung by the chorus, and such a moving way to end the story. Here's the great Willard White in the finale of the Glyndebourne production from 1989: