Porgy and Bess is constantly referred to as “The Great American Opera” and after viewing the opera and taking everything it has to offer in, it is very much worthy of this title. Although the cast of Porgy and Bess is predominantly black and follows the story of blacks living in the fictitious “Catfish Row” located in South Carolina, this is not just a milestone in black arts, it is a milestone in American arts. However, when analyzing the history and birth of Porgy and Bess is when things get a bit more complex.
The most interesting part about Porgy and Bess is that the opera was first debuted in 1935 and set in 1950. Meaning, set 15 years into the future, this is what the creators of Porgy and Bess predicted the plight of African Americans would be. With music by white American composer and based on a novel by white American author, Dubose Heyward, this is obvious all based on observation of the black plight, rather than someone who was living it during this time period. This probably affected the way some of the things were presented, but the beauty of Porgy and Bess is that none of this truly matters.
Directed by the incomparable Francesca Zambello, this production of Porgy and Bess pulls the true humanity out of each character. Of course, Bass-Baritone Eric Owens never disappoints becoming almost a regular at Lyric Opera. Portraying the mild-mannered Porgy, Owens adds a softness to the character that will make any viewer fall for the lonely cripple. The two massive breakout stars of the show were Adina Aaron and Gwendolyn Brown. Soprano Aaron Adina, showed her versatility by delivering gorgeous arias and duets, as well as entertaining the crowd immensely with her charismatic moments. Definitely the comedic relief and fan favorite of the entire opera was Contralto, Gwendolyn Brown as Maria. Dominating the stage she delivered the laughs and the vocals everytime she blessed the stage with her massive voice.
The classic narrative of Porgy and Bess constantly kept the audience interested whether it was focused of the slimy drug dealer Sportin’ Life or the majestic demeanor of Porgy. The fun nature of the play would definitely appeal to family, but please note there are adult themes, such as the constant reference and snorting of the ever-present “happy dust” or the quick sex romp between Bess and the villainous Crown. The ending of Porgy and Bess is left on a cliffhanger, but surprisingly doesn’t leave the audience feeling unfulfilled as the mere emotions of each character is enough to satisfy.
Porgy and Bess will be showing through December 20 and tickets can be purchased on the Lyric website.