On Saturday, October 29th, I attended the Washington National Opera's production of Porgy and Bess, George's Gershwin's stunning 1935 "opera" about love, race, poverty and faith. Why the quotes? A lot of people seem reticent to classify the work as opera, probably due to the jazz and popular feel of the piece. Jens F. Laurson comments on this is his contribution to the Ionarts blog.
It was a fabulous production, from start to finish. In addition to a strong cast in the leading roles, there were poignant and gorgeous smaller moments. One of these surprises was the showstopping coloratura of "Strawberries." I couldn't find who had sung this little bit, but it was indeed one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard. I was joined by a few friends at the production who agreed. How ironic that I should walk out of the Kennedy Center not with echoes of "Summertime" or "Bess, You Is My Woman Now"--but instead, something that was nothing more than a 2-3 minute sound byte in a sea of extraordinary arias.
The music is hard to define, and I think that is why there have been so many spurious attempts at damaging the reputation of this opera. There are moments of extreme modernism, cantabile arias, New Orleans jazz, and yes--even Hebraic cantoring. On this last note, I may be in the minority. The mourning modal sounds of Porgy's elegy evoked sounds of the cantor in my mind.
Porgy and Bess is one of the rare opportunities we have to unite popular and elite culture in this country. It is for this reason that I'd like to see the same quality of performance presented in a venue where one doesn't have to pay $102 for the privilege.