Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is now a standard in the operatic repertory. In 1950 a complete performance of the opera was hard to find. The best known songs from the work were often done as recital pieces or on recordings. The Met didn’t mount its first production of the opera until 1985.

In 1950 two Met stars, Risë Stevens and Robert Merrill, recorded eight numbers from the opera. It had little impact on the public and was quickly forgotten. But it’s still around if you look hard enough for it. Recorded under the direction of Robert Russell Bennett with the Robert Shaw Chorale its worth a serious listen because of the singing of Merrill.

The baritone was one of the best of the last century. But on this recording he sounds like the best ever. He was in such glorious voice when he made this recording that the entire contents of it are linked below. Stevens is fine, but the recording belongs to Merrill. No matter that he never would have sung it onstage as part of a complete performance of the opera or that one might quibble about interpretative issues – it’s the sheer beauty of Merrill’s voice that merits attention more than 70 years after the recording was made that keeps it alive and vital.

Songs from Porgy and Bess

A woman is a sometime thing
Gone, gone, gone
My man’s gone now
I got plenty o nuttin’
Bess, you is my woman now
It ain’t necessarily so
Where is my Bess

Risë Stevens, mezzo
Robert Merrill, baritone
Robert Shaw Chorale
RCA Victor Orchestra
Robert Russell Bennett