James Robinson’s smash production of Porgy and Bess returns to the Metropolitan Opera after 2 years. Amongst a stellar cast, Eric Owens and Angel Blue reprise their roles as the titular characters, and their winning performance was recognised this year with a Grammy Award. Gershwin’s classic opera brings to the stage, the exploited African American Community of Catfish Row in the 1920s Deep South. A handicapped beggar in the slums, Porgy’s life turns upside down as he falls in love with a drug dependent Bess, trapped in the claws of her abusive lover Crown.
To begin, the pre-performance backdrop displays a huge photograph of the 1920s Catfish Row, which seamlessly eases the audience into the setting of the slums. But what really transports the audience, is Camille A. Brown’s carefully constructed yet beautiful, choreographed dances. She combines contemporary dance with historically informed African American gestures to tactfully convey the joys and struggles of life in the neighbourhood.
What costume designer Catherine Zuber succeeds in, is illustrating the opera’s occurring events through her costumes. Whether it be the dusky-coloured clothes when the mourners sing spirituals to the dead Robbins, or the colourful dresses when the inhabitants enjoy themselves at the picnic in Kittiwah Island, the costumes are characters unto themselves, depicting the daily life in Catfish Row. Michael Yeargan’s three-story wooden-framed revolving set consists of multiple small rooms which provide an insight into the tight community within the slums. We are regularly reminded of this close-knit society by the buzz and harmony of the chorus singing (especially in Act III, that is truly splendid). What’s more, Donald Holder’s manipulation of lighting creatively transforms the setting, carrying the audience from mornings to evenings, sunny to stormy days.
Gershwin’s music shuttles between various genres, from blues to classical to jazz, and is enhanced by elements of Gullah and Jewish music. With David Robertson’s consistently sophisticated conducting at the head, the Met Orchestra triumphs in playing the glorious score, fluidly moving from one style to the next.
Sportin’ Life, played by Frederick Ballentine, shines with his powerful voice and his persuasive acting. His ‘it Ain’t Necessarily So’ is made particularly entertaining by his sleek and confident dancing, and his charisma makes his role as a drug dealer leading the folks of the community by the nose, a convincing one. Alfred Walker’s aggressive and controlling Crown is equally compelling. Eric Owen’s performance of Porgy is slightly weakened by his lack of singing umph, but his portrayal is nevertheless very nuanced. Angel Blue’s self-destructive turn as Bess becomes more convincing as the opera advances, and her singing ability to alternate between classical to contemporary music is impressive.
Earning a well-deserved standing ovation from a nearly full auditorium, the Met Opera is once more victorious in this production of Porgy and Bess. With a skilled cast and crew, the performance was hugely enjoyable and worth seeing well more than once.
- Composer: George Gershwin (1898-1937)
- Libretto: George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, Ira Gershwin
- Director: James Robinson
- Conductor: David Robertson
- Photograph: ©Met Opera/Ken Howard
- Cast includes Eric Owens, Angel Blue, Janai Brugger, Latonia Moore, Frederick Ballentine, Ryan Speedo Green, Alfred Walker
- Metropolitan Opera House
- Until 12th December 2021
- Running Time: 3 hours 30 min.