Following the premiere of Porgy and Bess in 1935, questions arose as to whether it should be performed as an opera with recitatives or as musical theater with spoken dialogue. For many years after 1942, Porgy and Bess appeared as a broadway show with spoken dialogue, however, Gershwin's version was and remains today as an opera. The upcoming performance of Porgy and Bess in Cincinnati on Sunday, July 8, will be the operative version with recitatives and full symphony orchestra. It will feature internationally known opera singers: Canadian superstar soprano Meashaa Brueggergosm as Bess, and bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu as Porgy. An excursion, to Cincinnati, open to the public, is sponsored and planned by the Marietta College Institute for Learning in Retirement.
This folk opera, as Gershwin called it, was inspired from the novel Porgy by Dubose Heyward, who, with Ira Gershwin, wrote the lyrics. The story germinated in Gershwin's mind until 1935 when it was finally completed. It is his most ambitious creation and his favorite composition. Gershwin's biographer, David Ewen, wrote that he "never quite ceased to wonder at the miracle that he had been its composer. He never stopped loving each and every bar, never wavered in the conviction that he had produced a work of art." It is considered to be Gershwin's most complex composition. America's first opera, as well as the most important composition in the 20th century. In it, he combines both popular and classical influences.
Born Jacob Gershowitz in Brooklyn, New York in 1898 of Russian-Jewish immigrants, he later changed his name to George Gershwin. His interest in music came at about age 11 when his father bought a piano for the older son, Ira. George then studied with Charles Hambitzer who called him "a genius who would make a mark some day." At 15 years of age, he began his career playing the piano in New York's nightclubs and was soon composing his own pieces. It was his jazz-influenced Rhapsody in Blue that ushered him into writing serious music.
Gershwin's music, especially the opera Porgy and Bess, were well received in Europe. Though Debussy and Ravel incorporated jazz elements in their music, Gershwin remains alone in his convincing melding of jazz into symphonic music. After having achieved recognition and wealth, one day, Gershwin asked Maurice Ravel for lessons in composition. Ravel is said to have asked how much he earned from his music. Ravel replied, "Then, Monsieur Gershwin, I think it is I who should take lessons from you."
Porgy and Bess is the story of a poor, crippled black man who lives on Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina. Despite his disabilities, Porgy has taken Bess away from a drunken and murderous stevedore, Crown. Many beautiful and familiar songs, Summertime, I Got Plenty o' Nuttin", Bess, You is my Woman Now, It Ain't Necessarily So, will be heard in the operatic version (with recitatives) in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess on Sunday, July 8, at the Music Hall in Cincinnati.
Article submitted by Jeanne Tasse.