The Met’s season opener Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess was broadcast over the Sirius network last night. Listeners who heard the broadcast and who can’t get to the Met will be able to view James Robinson’s new production on February 1 when it will be telecast as part of this season’s Met in HD series.
A brief impression based on the broadcast (I’ll write more after I’ve seen the telecast) suggests that the role of Porgy does not fit within Eric Owen’s comfort zone. Many of the opera’s hit numbers (there are a lot of them) were indifferently realized. An exception was Latonia Moore’s singing of My man’s gone which brought down the house – no other cliché serves as well. Alfred Walker, who’s been singing small roles at the Met for more than 20 years, played Crown. His virile sound suggests that he would make an excellent Porgy.
David Robertson conducted the Met’s orchestra and a specially assembled all black chorus with sensitivity and power. Based on the broadcast, they were to my ears the highlight of the production.
Were this opera to appear today it would doubtless be condemned as a gigantic piece of cultural appropriation. But the passage of more than eight decades and the employment it provides black performers seems to have exempted it from the charge. Musically, it’s a wonderful effort for a first time opera composer who was largely self taught. Consider that Gershwin who wrote many works for the stage had only one – this one – that has survived. The songs live, but all the musicals are dead. The death of America’s greatest musical genius at 38 remains an unhealed wound.
When Porgy comes to your local movie theater don’t miss it.