Watch out for Porgy and Bess! Or, better, keep an ear to the ground…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Laquita Mitchell as Bess and Alfred Walker as Porgy in the Tanglewood performance of <em>Porgy and Bess</em>. Photo Hilary Scott.
Laquita Mitchell as Bess and Alfred Walker as Porgy in the Tanglewood performance of Porgy and Bess. Photo Hilary Scott.

The Symphony Hall performance, also amplified, unfortunately, is reviewed here.

Boston audiences may possibly have something truly wonderful to look forward to in September following the gala season opener. Bramwell Tovey will repeat his splendid 2011 Tanglewood performance of Porgy and Bess. At Tanglewood it was an extraordinary musical experience — a performance of the operatic version of George Gershwin’s “folk opera” — which is not all that common an event and is likely to become even less common, since the Gershwin estate has approved a “lite” Broadway version running about 90 minutes with a severely simplified score. (To read Charles Warren’s review of its initial run at the American Repertory Theater, click here.) Add this to the current infatuation of cash-strapped American opera houses with musicals, and the prospect is depressing.

With the composer’s original intentions on the endangered list in this way. I shouldn’t be surprised if a great many opera-lovers and Gershwin-enthusiasts travel serious distances to hear Porgy in Symphony Hall. Three or four of us from the Berkshire Review were in the Shed in 2011. We were keenly looking forward to it, and musically we were not disappointed. In fact, at least I was very much impressed by Mr. Tovey’s flair for the work on a grand scale and by the superb cast.

Why did neither Larry Wallach nor I write a review? We were both nonplussed — infuriated, in fact — by the amplification someone deemed necessary for the performance. The cast had a number of singers in it who routinely sang roles like Alberich and Fafner in the best houses. Surely they could make themselves heard in the Shed. There was a misguided notion of “semi-staging” Porgy with entrances and exits from both ends of the vast stage in the Shed. Interactions were spread across stage, as if that duplicated a fully staged production. This was singularly ineffective in this particular opera, for reasons I can’t quite explain. Porgy seems to need either a full, detailed set or a concert performance in which the singers can interact, but simply, without the long passages across the stage and elaborate set-ups which were thought to require the close miking used at Tanglewood. In this way I, sitting on the left, could here singers entering from the right, which was damn far away, aurally entering from my left, with all the distortion and artificiality you’d expect. In fact it undermined the dramatic effect, because it was often difficult or impossible to tell who was singing at a particular moment. We all knew the importance of the performance and what exceptional music-making it was, but none of us had actually heard it from the singers’ mouths. Hence none of us were willing to review it.

This didn’t discourage Steven Ledbetter from writing an extensive review on the Boston Musical Intelligencer, which I recommend.

Porgy and Bess is one of the great American operas. If George Gershwin called it a “folk opera”, that gives posterity no justification for cutting it down to size — contemporary Broadway size, not even what Broadway audiences saw and heard in the 1942 Broadway version. Since the new “user-friendly” Porgy is likely to dominate future productions, this full-blooded concert performance under Bramwell Tovey is sadly destined to be a rare opportunity to hear it in a reasonable approximation of how it was intended to be heard. I dearly hope that they won’t ruin it again this time round!!!

The Symphony Hall performance, also amplified, unfortunately, is reviewed here.


WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com