Sunday, June 21, 2009

San Francisco Opera - PORGY AND BESS (restored)

PORGY AND BESS (By George and Ira Gershwin and Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, Conductor: John DeMain, Production/Director: Francesca Zambello, Washington National Opera production) In the midst of a film festival, I took a breather to spend a (long) afternoon at San Francisco Opera's (restored) PORGY AND BESS. Now, I only mention "long" and "restored" as I was expecting Executive Director David Glockley to have transferred the lauded Houston Grand Opera production up here. Instead, this was the Washington National Opera production, which restores the score from the 150 minute "Broadway version" to a 195 minute version (that is still short 45 minutes from the first score, which apparently received only a few, early stagings). Personally, I am OK with the shorter version, as the additional material does not seem to be all that overtly exceptional, except for a trio near the finale that I do not remember as being part of the earlier versions I have seen. Anyway...

Eric Owens does a robust job as Porgy, who in this production is given a simple crutch and not the traditional "goat wagon" to work from. Laquita Mitchell is able to compensate for some unfortunate costuming as Bess. She is dressed as either Carmen or Mother Mary, depending on the portion of the performance we're in, and it is just too obvious. She is able to sing past it, and we are given a great deal of character without the indications given by her dress. Also standing out in the supporting cast are Karen Slack and Alteouise deVaughn, who join Owens for a simply fabulous trio near the end of the opera. Sportin' Life is sung, acted and danced by Chauncy Packer. Now, Sportin' Life is a really odd role within the piece. Firstly, it is as if they wrote all the Tin Pan Alley numbers for him, and his songs really do not fit within the fabric of the opera, in my humble and non-operatically educated opinion. However, that might be the point, as he is this external force that acts as the Devil to Bess' Faust, in what is one of a few sub-conflicts. In fact, in this expanded version, Bess is faced with no less than three men and lives from which to chose. Needless to say, tragedies ensue. Her third nemesis is Crown, sung here by Lester Lynch, who regretfully does not have a "big number" by which to be overly memorable. However, he does take part in a really skillfully and surprisingly physical fight between him, Porgy and Bess. The chorus is simply excellent, particularly during the two prayers in the second act, which I always forget about, and am always blown away by!

The setting by Peter J. Davison and lit by Mark McCullough are really fascinating and really BIG! We are set in a factory, more than a port, but it works. The staging and movement are unusually choreographic and handled with requisite vigor and efficiency by the chorus. In the end, though, I would have to say that I now no longer need to see another PORGY AND BESS, unless it is the more operatic excerpts.

Maxxxxx says
re PORGY AND BESS: "Dooobie dooo-oooo-oooo!"

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