It seems like there are a few opera productions such as Bizet’s Carmen, Delibes’ Lakme, Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, and Verdi’s La Traviata that have stood the test of time. George Gershwin’s classic opera Porgy and Bess is another all-time favorite, and has been performed on many stages around the country since 1935. That’s right, the long-running show has turned 75 and is still bringing joy to thousands of people, not only nationally but on an international level as well. It has made a memorable impression in the opera genre and is a distinguished American masterpiece.
Gershwin’s opera creation is a famous, brilliant and beloved piece of artwork but has not been without its share of controversy throughout its history. Set in a vibrant African-American community in Charleston, South Carolina, it tells the story of a crippled beggar and the woman he loves. Their lives are touched by poverty, violence, and drugs. The work “was introduced as a folk opera, occupying a midway between opera and Broadway musical,” according to John Edward Hasse, curator of American Music at the Smithsonian Institution. “At the time of its debut, the subject matter of Porgy and Bess was considered daring,” Hasse said. “During the era of racial segregation, U.S. audiences were unaccustomed to music that gave serious artistic expression to the lives of African Americans.” Perhaps equally daring for the times was the all-African-American cast — a choice that made it possible for African Americans to be involved in a major production and be cast in principal roles in an era that provided few opportunities to do so.
Mr. Gershwin created the opera after reading the 1924 novel Porgy, written by a gentleman by the name of DuBose Heyward. Gershwin actually traveled to Charleston, South Carolina and immersed himself in African-American music in order to depict the amazing spirit found in the Deep South culture of that era. The Porgy and Bess characters are able to deliver an exciting, powerful, funny, and at times heart-wrenching storyline sure to leave the audience wanting more. Porgy and Bess also displays an eclectic music style comprising blues, jazz, and traditional spirituals, but still expressed in an operatic format.
One of my all-time favorite arias from Porgy and Bess songs I enjoy hearing and singing is “Summertime” — such a pretty musical piece. Last summer I performed Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now” from Porgy and Bess in a classical recital. Years before, I was fortunate to see the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s production of Porgy and Bess starring the very talented Gregg Baker and one of my favorite sopranos, Ms. Angela Brown. Porgy and Bess is definitely a show worth seeing whether you’re an opera lover or not. Be sure to check out www.jwpepper.com to find Porgy and Bess music for you to enjoy. Congratulations to Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess on celebrating 75 years — may it have many more years of making people happy. I know I’ve enjoyed having this Gershwin classic in my life!
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Click here to see music from the show available for purchase.