Friday, July 14, 2017

When God make cripple, He mean him to be lonely

I was fortunate to see the second performance of Porgy and Bess at The Glimmerglass Festival on Thursday evening.* I've always been a big fan of Glimmerglass and its Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, and I call this another riveting operatic experience and a triumph.

Porgy's got plenty o'nuttin'
Musa Ngqungwana with Justin Austin as Jake
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
First I must praise the amazing performances. South African bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana portrayed Porgy's heart-wrenching loneliness and repressed anger, his sweetness and longing, with sincerity and depth. His singing was resonant and full and tender and loving. His chemistry with the Bess of Talise Trevigne was a delight. Ms. Trevigne has graced these pages before, including descriptions of this (link) performance of Jemmy in Guillaume Tell at Caramoor and this (link) performance of Ophelia in Fort Worth. Her Bess was lost and wild and vulnerable and lonely, a perfect match for Porgy. She sang the role just as beautifully and expressively as we expect, and looked as sexy as Bess should.

Bess struggles to free herself from Crown
Talise Trevigne and Norman Garrett
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
The entire cast were excellent. Meroë Khalia Adeeb's "Summertime", Clara's lullaby that opens the show, was shimmering, and Simone Z. Paulwell's "My man's gone now", Serena's lament after her husband is killed, was hearbreaking. Norman Garrett was menacing in voice and character as Crown, and Sportin' Life was given the appropriate balance of court jester and evil blood sucker by Frederick Ballentine. Ms. Adeeb and Ms. Paulwell are Glimmerglass Young Artists, and many other roles were very well performed by other Glimmerglass Young Artists. Guest artist Judith Skinner gave ample volume and character to Maria. (We look forward to seeing Ms. Skinner as Aunt Eller in the concurrently running Oklahoma!)

Visually, this production is stunning. (Sets by Peter J. Davison, Costumes by Paul Tazewell, lighting by Mark McCullough.) One is struck from the beginning by how much this Catfish Row looks like a prison, with two tiers of doors that resemble cell doors. Interiors were represented by set pieces that rolled in and out smoothly. Kittiwah Island had the feel of a dilapidated seaside amusement park. Costumes were also beautiful--drab tones for everyone except Bess and Sportin' Life, although Bess dressed much more conservatively when she was living with Porgy. Everything period-appropriate, nothing surprising. Lighting effects both subtle and dramatic were very well done. And once again I praise the choreography of Eric Sean Fogel.

Conductor John DeMain has a very long history with this work, so one wondered why at times he seemed at odds with the orchestra, seeming to struggle to bring them to the brisk tempi he wished to use. It could be because this was the second performance of the season, and six days had passed since the first.

It seems almost compulsory to discuss Porgy's history and its reception politically and socially. Based on DuBose Heyward's novel and play Porgy, the opera premiered in 1935 on Broadway, and had varied success in subsequent revivals, including worldwide tours sponsored by the US Department of State. The work fell out of favor in this country for decades, with some groups and individuals criticizing the story's racial stereotypes. A 1976 Houston Grand Opera revival (also conducted by John DeMain) was influential in bringing the piece back into the public eye. Separate 2006 and 2011 adaptations called The Gerswhins' Porgy and Bess sought to adapt the work for the conventions of the Broadway musical. (Stephen Sondheim publicly criticized the new title for discounting DuBose Heyward's role in creating the opera.) The current production is a new production, faithful to Gershwin's conception of the piece as a folk opera.

Once again, I call this a triumph, and I highly recommend seeing it if you can get a ticket. Many performances are sold out, so that might be difficult!

The picnic on Kittiwah Island
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

*This is the third production I have witnessed--it's not that common to have seen even one. The other two were at Charlotte Opera and Greater Miami Opera, as the two companies were called in the Dark Ages.

No comments: