The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Metropolitan Opera Summer 2020
This Metropolitan Opera
Company production of the Gershwin-Heyward opera was broadcast on American
television in February 2020 and available online through the summer. It is
far more successful than not, the only weaknesses lying in a couple of the
Foremost among the
attractions is Angel Blue's Bess, Blue's crystal-pure soprano achieving
heart-stopping beauty in Bess You Is My Woman Now and I Loves You Porgy.
And – with shared credit to director James Robinson – Blue doesn't just
make pretty noises with her mouth, but acts the words and the role
Eric Owens' Porgy is a
somewhat less flashy role – while she soars through Bess You Is My Woman
Now he remains grounded. So it may take a while to realize that his solid
support is what allows her to soar, just as his no-nonsense performance
throughout anchors the opera in emotional reality.
Owens is also a more mobile
Porgy than some, limited only by a single crutch and therefore relying
less on easy pathos.
Both stars also shine through
outstanding musical enunciation, making the Met's subtitles superfluous.
If only that could be said of the rest of the cast, too many of whom
(including the chorus) fall into the opera singer's failing of sacrificing
clear diction to undifferentiated open vowels and tremolo, making the
subtitles as necessary as they would be in an Italian opera.
The biggest disappointment
here is Golda Schultz's Clara, who opens the opera with a Summertime
almost completely lacking in consonants. (When Bess reprises the song
later, Angel Blue puts Schultz to shame and shows us what it should have
Elsewhere, Fred Erick
Ballentine has been skilfully directed to make Sportin' Life seem less
like he wandered in from some musical comedy in the theatre next door than
is too often the case. Not a flashy dresser, he frequently blends in with
the crowd, and he makes Ain't Necessarily So and There's A Boat feel more
a part of the opera's musical vocabulary and less like interpolations.
Brief glimpses of Camille A.
Brown's Alvin Ailey-style choreography leave us wishing for more.
A note on the credits.
Contractual obligations make the Met call this 'The Gershwins' Porgy And
Bess,' which is doubly unfortunate, first because that label was also used
for the musically-emasculated easier-to-sing theatre version of 2006, and
second because the libretto and most of the lyrics are taken from the
original play by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward.
No less a judge than Stephen Sondheim has written '[DuBose] Heyward's lyrics for Porgy And Bess are, as a set, the most beautiful and powerful in our musical-theatre history.' Give credit where it's due.
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