World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Porgy and Bess

Article Id: WHEBN0000219642
Reproduction Date:

Title: Porgy and Bess  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Porgy and Bess

Boston try-out prior to the Broadway opening

Porgy and Bess is an English-language Houston Grand Opera production of the opera in 1976 gained it new popularity, eventually becoming one of the best-known and most frequently performed operas.

Gershwin read Porgy in 1926 and proposed that he should collaborate with Heyward on Porgy and Bess. In 1934, Gershwin and Heyward began work on the project by visiting the author's native Charleston. Gershwin explained why he called Porgy and Bess a folk opera in a 1935 New York Times article: "Porgy and Bess is a folk tale. Its people naturally would sing folk music. When I first began work in the music I decided against the use of original folk material because I wanted the music to be all of one piece. Therefore I wrote my own spirituals and folksongs. But they are still folk music – and therefore, being in operatic form, Porgy and Bess becomes a folk opera."[1] The libretto of Porgy and Bess tells the story of Porgy, a disabled black beggar living in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina. It deals with his attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin' Life, the drug dealer. Where the earlier novel and stage-play differ, the opera generally follows the stage-play.

In the years following Gershwin's death, Porgy and Bess was adapted for smaller scale performances and was later adapted into a film in 1959. Some of the songs in the opera, such as "Summertime" became popular and frequently recorded songs. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the trend has been towards reproducing a greater fidelity to Gershwin's original intentions although other smaller-scale productions continued to be mounted. A complete version of the score was released in 1976; since then, it has been recorded several times.


  • Composition history 1
  • Performance history 2
    • 1935 Original Broadway production 2.1
    • 1942 Broadway revival 2.2
    • European premieres 2.3
    • 1952 touring production 2.4
    • 1976 Houston Grand Opera production 2.5
    • Subsequent productions 2.6
    • 2006 The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (Nunn adaptation) 2.7
    • 2011 The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (Paulus adaptation) 2.8
    • 2014 The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (London production) 2.9
  • Roles 3
  • Synopsis 4
    • Act 1 4.1
    • Act 2 4.2
    • Act 3 4.3
  • Racial controversy 5
  • Musical elements 6
  • Recordings 7
    • Excerpts 7.1
    • Complete recordings 7.2
  • Adaptations 8
    • Film 8.1
      • 1959 film 8.1.1
      • Other films 8.1.2
    • Television 8.2
    • Radio 8.3
    • Concert adaptations 8.4
    • Piano 8.5
    • Jazz versions 8.6
  • Songs 9
  • Commendations 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

Composition history

In the fall of 1933 Gershwin and Heyward signed a contract with the Theatre Guild to write the opera. In the summer of 1934 Gershwin and Heyward went to Folly Beach, South Carolina, (a small island near Charleston) where Gershwin got a feel for the locale and its music. He worked on the opera there and in New York. Ira Gershwin, in New York, wrote lyrics to some of the opera's classic songs, most notably "It Ain't Necessarily So". Most of the lyrics, including "Summertime", were written by Heyward, who also wrote the libretto.[2]

Performance history

1935 Original Broadway production

Gershwin's first version of the opera, running four hours (counting the two intermissions), was performed privately in a concert version in Alexander Smallens. The leading roles were played by Todd Duncan and Anne Brown. The influential vaudeville artist John W. Bubbles created the role of Sportin' Life; the role of Serena was created by Ruby Elzy.

After the Broadway run, a tour started on January 27, 1936, in Philadelphia and traveled to Pittsburgh and Chicago before ending in Washington, D.C., on March 21, 1936. During the Washington run, the cast—as led by Todd Duncan—protested segregation at the National Theatre. Eventually management gave in to the demands, resulting in the first integrated audience for a performance of any show at that venue.[4]

Around 1938, much of the original cast reunited for a West Coast revival; Avon Long took on the role of Sportin' Life. Long continued to reprise his role in several of the following productions.

1942 Broadway revival

The noted director and producer John Wildberg. In re-fashioning it in the style of musical theatre which Americans were used to hearing from Gershwin, Crawford produced a drastically cut version of the opera compared with the first Broadway staging. The orchestra was reduced, the cast was halved, and many recitatives were reduced to spoken dialog.[5]

Having seen the performance, theater owner Lee Shubert arranged for Crawford to bring her production to Broadway. The show opened at the Majestic Theatre in January 1942.[6] Duncan and Brown reprised their roles as the title characters, with Alexander Smallens again conducting. In June the contralto Etta Moten, whom Gershwin had first envisioned as Bess, replaced Brown in the role. Moten was such a success that Bess became her signature role. The Crawford production ran for nine months and was far more successful financially than the original.

Radio Station WOR in New York broadcast a live one-hour version on May 7, 1942. The cast included: Todd Duncan, Anne Brown, Ruby Elzy, Avon Long,

European premieres

On March 27, 1943, the opera had its European premiere at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen. This performance is notable as it was performed by an all-white cast in blackface during the Nazi occupation. After 22 sold-out performances, the Nazis closed the production.[4] Other all-white or mostly-white productions in Europe took place in Zurich in 1945 and 1950, and Gothenburg and Stockholm in 1948.

Leontyne Price as Bess

1952 touring production

  • Porgy and Bess, NPR webcast of full opera, staged November 12, 2005 at the Kennedy Center, Washington, DC
  • : An American Voice"Porgy and Bess" Excerpts from PBS documentary on the opera
  • PorgyHypertext edition of the novel
  • "Jazzbo: Why we still listen to Gershwin" The New Yorker article by Claudia Roth Pierpoint
  • Internet Broadway Database listings for all Broadway productions
  • Entry
  • "Porgy and Bess"75 years

External links

  • Alpert, Hollis: The Life and Times of Porgy and Bess: The Story of an American Classic Publisher: Nick Hern Books, 1991 ISBN 1-85459-054-5
  • Bauch, Marc A. Europäische Einflüsse im amerikanischen Musical, Marburg, Germany: Tectum Verlag, 2013. ISBN 978-3-8288-3209-1 [A unique, paratextual comparison between Wozzeck by Alban Berg and Porgy and Bess]
  • Capote, Truman: The Muses Are Heard: An Account New York: Random House, 1956, ISBN 0-394-43732-2 (story of the 1955 Porgy and Bess production in Moscow)
  • Fisher, Burton D. Porgy and Bess (Opera Journeys Mini Guide Series) Coral Gables, Florida: Opera Journeys Publishing, 2000, ISBN 1-930841-19-1, overview of the opera
  • Hamm, Charles: "The Theatre Guild Production of Porgy and Bess", Journal of the American Musicological Society, Fall 1987, pp. 495–532.
  • Hutchisson, James, M.: Dubose Heyward: A Charleston Gentleman and the World of Porgy and Bess, University Press of Mississippi, 2000 ISBN 1-57806-250-0
  • Noonan, Ellen. The Strange Career of Porgy and Bess: Race, Culture, and America's Most Famous Opera (University of North Carolina Press; 2012) 448 pages; traces the history of the opera since 1935
  • Weaver, David E: "The Birth of Porgy and Bess", pp. 80–98, Black Diva of the Thirties – The Life of Ruby Elzy, University Press of Mississippi, 2004

Further reading

  • Brady, Tim: "The Way Spaces Were Allocated: African Americans on Campus, Part II" Minnesota, November–December 2002, University of Minnesota Alumni Association
  • Ferencz, George J. "Porgy and Bess on the Concert Stage: Gershwin's 1936 Suite (Catfish Row) and the 1942 Gershwin–Bennett Symphonic Picture." Musical Quarterly 94:1–2 (Spring-Summer 2011), 93–155.
  • Jablonski, Edward: Gershwin: A Biography Garden City, New Jersey: Doubleday & Company, 1987, ISBN 0-7924-2164-7
  • Jablonski, Edward and Lawrence D. Stewart: The Gershwin Years, Garden City, New Jersey: Doubleday & Company, 1973, Second edition, ISBN 0-306-80739-4
  • Kimball, Robert and Alfred Simon: The Gershwins, New York: Atheneum, 1973, ISBN 0-689-10569-X
  • Marx, Arthur. Goldwyn: A Biography of the Man Behind the Myth, W. W. Norton, 1976, ISBN 0-393-07497-8
  • Schwartz, Charles: Gershwin: His Life and Music New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1973, ISBN 0-306-80096-9
  • Southern Eileen: The Music of Black Americans: A History, New York: W. W. Norton & Company; 3rd edition, ISBN 0-393-97141-4


  1. ^ Gershwin, George (November 2, 1935). "Gershwin explains why his Porgy and Bess is called "folk opera"". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Jane Erb (1996). (1934)"Porgy and Bess". Retrieved July 30, 2008. 
  3. ^ Jablonski & Stewart, 227–229.
  4. ^ a b c Porgy and Bess, American Memory: "Today in History, September 2", Library of Congress
  5. ^ a b c d Standifer, James, "Porgy and Bess"The Tumultuous Life of , Humanities, November/December 1997, Volume 18, Number 6
  6. ^ Victor Book of the Opera New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968, pp. 326–328
  7. ^ Martin, George: The Opera Companion to Twentieth Century Opera New York: Dodd, Meade & Company, 1979. pp. 389–396.
  8. ^ a b "Porgy' Goes Abroad".  
  9. ^  
  10. ^ Robert Breen Papers, [ca. 1935 – ca. 1979]. Ohio State University Libraries. 
  11. ^ The Broadway League. | IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information"Porgy and Bess". IBDB. Retrieved February 4, 2010. 
  12. ^ "Met History". The Metropolitan Opera. Retrieved February 4, 2010. 
  13. ^ Cape Town Opera, "Cape Town Opera's Tour To Israel, Press release: 27 October 2010
  14. ^ "Porgy and Bess"Press views: . BBC News. November 11, 2006. Retrieved August 13, 2008. 
  15. ^ Simonson, Robert (2012-05-31). "Broadway Producer Edgar Freitag Is Dead at 80".  
  16. ^ a b Healey, Patrick (August 5, 2011). "'"It Ain't Necessarily 'Porgy.  
  17. ^ [2]
  18. ^ "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess"Your Guide to . American Repertory Theater. 
  19. ^ "Porgy and Bess"Stephen Sondheim Takes Issue With Plan for Revamped . The New York Times. August 10, 2011. 
  20. ^  
  21. ^ on Broadway"Porgy and Bess". 2011 Porgy and Bess. Retrieved November 18, 2011. 
  22. ^ "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess"Review Roundup: Norm Lewis, Audra McDonald, et al. Open in . Retrieved September 2, 2011. 
  23. ^ Zoglin, Richard. "The Best of 2011: Theater", Time magazine, December 19, 2011 issue, p. 77
  24. ^ Hetrick, Adam. Will Conclude Broadway Run Sept. 23"The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess"Tony-Winning ,, July 18, 2012
  25. ^ "Breaking News: The Gershwin's PORGY & BESS Moves Broadway Closing Up to September 23, 2012". Broadway World. Retrieved July 18, 2012. 
  26. ^ , Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, review: Gloriously sung Gershwin"Porgy and Bess" by Paul Taylor, The Independent, 31 July 2014
  27. ^ Thomson, Virgil in Modern Music, November–December 1935. pp. 16–17.
  28. ^ Greenberg, Rodney. George Gershwin, Phaidon Press (1998), ISBN 0-7148-3504-8 p. 196.
  29. ^ Hutchisson, James M. DuBose Heyward: A Charleston Gentleman and the World of "Porgy and Bess." University of Mississippi Press (2000), ISBN 978-1-57806-250-8, 165.
  30. ^ Becker, Paula. ""Negro Repertory Company" on, November 10, 2002.
  31. ^ Brady, Tim, "The Way Spaces Were Allocated: African Americans on Campus, Part II", Minnesota, November–December 2002, University of Minnesota Alumni Association.
  32. ^ Albert, H. (1990). The Life and Times of 'Porgy and Bess'. Knopf. p. 298. 
  33. ^ Reverend Phyllis L. Hubbell, "I Got Plenty O Nuttin", sermon at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, August 20, 2000.
  34. ^ Peress, Maurice. "George Gershwin and African American Music. New MusicBox, 8 July 2005
  35. ^ Pollack, George Gershwin pp. 597–98
  36. ^  
  37. ^ set in the depths of apartheid"Porgy and Bess to Europe—The only opera company in South Africa is on the road to Britain with a Porgy and Bess"Cape Town Opera brings , The Times, London, October 16, 2009, Retrieved on October 21, 2009
  38. ^ Ewen, David, The Home Book of 20th Century Music, Arco, 1956, p. 138
  39. ^
  40. ^ Jablonski, Edward, Gershwin, New York:Doubleday, (1987): Cited in Benaroya, Adam (May 2000) "The Jewish Roots in George Gershwin's Music", I.L. Peretz Community Jewish School; Retrieved January 2, 2005
  41. ^ Pareles, Jon (January 29, 1997) History of a Nation in Its Song to Itself The New York Times; Retrieved February 21, 2006
  42. ^ Whitfield, Stephen J. (September 1999)
  43. ^ (Selections): Act 2: It Ain't Necessarily So (1998 Remastered): Lawrence Tibbett: MP3 DownloadsPorgy and
  44. ^ Gershwin: Porgy & Bess [With Members of the Original Cast]: George Gershwin, Alexander Smallens, Todd Duncan, Anne Brown, Avon Long: Music
  45. ^ , Bruce Foote : CastAlbums.orgPorgy and Bess
  46. ^ Mabel Mercer Sings, Cy Walter Plays... Selection from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess
  47. ^ Porgy & Bess: High Performance: William Warfield, John W. Bubbles, Leontyne Price: Music
  48. ^ Porgy & Bess: George Gershwin: Music
  49. ^ Music was played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Simon Rattle. Producer: David R. Murray; Balance Engineer: Mark Vigars; Assistant Producer: Tony Harrison; Production Assistant: Alison Fox. Recorded at No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London. Recorded using B&W loudspeakers. Box cover, booklet cover & photos: Guy Gravett. Original sound recording made By EMI Records Ltd. 1989
  50. ^ Janos Gereben, on DVD and Blu-Ray"Porgy and Bess", San Francisco Classical Voice on
  51. ^ Marx, Arthur: Goldwyn – The Man Behind the Myth
  52. ^ Porterfield, Christopher (October 4, 1993). "Conjuring Up Catfish Row". TIME. Retrieved February 4, 2010. 
  53. ^ O'Connor, John J. (October 6, 1993). "Review/Television; Two Law Series Return, With Some Revisions". The New York Times. Retrieved February 4, 2010. 
  54. ^ "Porgy & Bess Movie DVD Review –". Retrieved February 4, 2010. 
  55. ^ (1993) (TV) – AwardsPorgy and Bess
  56. ^ Awards Database – The BAFTA site
  57. ^
  58. ^ Crouch, Stanley, Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz, Basic Books, 2007, p. 54. ISBN 0-465-01512-3
  59. ^ Klaver, Wilfred. "The Summertime Connection". The Summertime Connection. Retrieved 3 September 2010. 
  60. ^ Summertime Connection list
  61. ^ "I Loves You, Porgy", Nina Simone version, on Billboard Chart
  62. ^ Edger, Walter. The South Carolina Encyclopedia, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006.
  63. ^ "2003 National Recording Registry choices". Library of Congress. Retrieved February 4, 2010. 



The 1940/1942 Decca Porgy and Bess recording with members of the original cast was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress, National Recording Registry in 2003.[63] The board selects recordings on an annual basis that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

In 2001, Porgy and Bess was proclaimed the official opera of the state of South Carolina.[62]

On July 14, 1993, the United States Postal Service recognized the opera's cultural significance by issuing a commemorative 29-cent postage stamp.


The violinist Isaac Stern and the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber both recorded instrumental versions of "Bess, You is My Woman Now".

Numerous other musicians have recorded "Summertime" in varying styles, including both instrumental and vocal recordings, it may be even the most popular cover song in popular music. Janis Joplin recorded a Blues rock version of "Summertime" with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Billy Stewart's version became a Top 10 Pop and R&B hit in 1966 for Chess Records. Even seemingly unlikely performers such as The Zombies (1965) or the ska punk band Sublime (as "Doin' Time", 1997) have made recordings of it. An international group of collectors of recordings of "Summertime" by the name "The Summertime Connection" claims more than 30,000 recorded performances (many live) in their collection.[59][60]

Some of the more celebrated renditions of these songs include Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Jascha Heifetz in his own transcriptions for violin and piano.

  • "Summertime", act 1, scene 1
  • "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing", act 1, scene 1
  • "My Man's Gone Now", act 1, scene 2
  • "It Take a Long Pull to Get There", act 2, scene 1
  • "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'", act 2, scene 1
  • "Buzzard Keep on Flyin'", act 2, scene 1
  • "Bess, You Is My Woman Now", act 2, scene 1
  • "Oh, I Can't Sit Down," act 2, scene 1
  • "It Ain't Necessarily So", act 2, scene 2
  • "What You Want Wid Bess", act 2, scene 2
  • "Oh, Doctor Jesus", act 2, scene 3
  • "
  • "A Red-Haired Woman", act 2, scene 4
  • "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York", act 3, scene 2
  • "Bess, O Where's My Bess?", act 3, scene 3
  • "O Lawd, I'm on My Way", act 3, scene 3

Some of the most popular songs are:

Porgy and Bess contains many songs that have become popular in their own right, becoming standards in jazz and blues in addition to their original operatic setting.


Porgy & Bess with the participation of several eminent jazz musicians.

Jazz versions

The late pianist .

In 1951, Australian-born composer .


Bennett's 40-minute Porgy and Bess, a concert version for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra was prepared in 1956. It is based very closely on Gershwin's original instrumental and vocal scoring, the principal recasting being the use of standard concert-orchestra instrumentation, eliminating the clarinet-saxophone doubling specified in Gershwin's 1935 orchestration.

In 1942 Morton Gould also arranged an orchestral suite in the 1950s.

Gershwin prepared an orchestral suite containing music from the opera after Porgy and Bess closed early on Broadway. Though originally titled "Suite from Porgy and Bess", Ira later renamed it Catfish Row.

Concert adaptations

The complete Porgy and Bess has been broadcast by the Metropolitan Opera three times as part of the Leona Mitchell sang the leads in the third broadcast.

On December 1, 1935, during the Broadway run, Todd Duncan and Anne Brown performed "Summertime", "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'" and "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" on NBC's The Magic Key of RCA radio program. Duncan and Brown also appeared on the 1937 CBS Gershwin memorial concert on September 8, 1937, broadcast from the Hollywood Bowl less than two months after the composer's death, along with several other members of the Broadway cast, including John W. Bubbles and Ruby Elzy. They performed several selections from the opera.


In 2009 the San Francisco Opera debuted the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess to critical acclaim. The production was recorded at that time and shown on PBS in the fall of 2014.

In 2002, the New York City Opera telecast its new version of the Houston Opera production, in a live performance from the stage of Lincoln Center. This version featured far more cuts than the previous telecast, but, like nearly all stage versions produced since 1976, used the sung recitatives and Gershwin's orchestrations. The telecast also included interviews with director Tazewell Thompson and was hosted by Beverly Sills.

This Porgy and Bess production was subsequently released on Emmy Awards, and won for its art direction.[55] It also won a BAFTA Award for Best Video Lighting.[56]

In 1993, Trevor Nunn's Glyndebourne Festival stage production of Porgy and Bess, not to be confused with his later production, was greatly expanded scenically and Cynthia Haymon sang the role of Bess. Nunn's "opening up" of the stage production was considered highly imaginative; his cast received much critical praise,[52][53][54] and the three-hour production retained nearly all of Gershwin's music, heard in the original 1935 orchestrations. This included the opera's sung recitatives, which have occasionally been turned into spoken dialogue in other productions. No extra dialogue was written for this production, as had been done in the 1959 film. All performers lip-synched rather than singing live on set, leading The New York Times to write: "What you hear is basically Mr. Nunn's acclaimed Glyndebourne Festival production, the original cast intact. What you see was filmed later in a London studio. The performers, some new to the production, are lip-synching. It's as if an elaborate visual aid had been concocted for the EMI recording."


The 1985 film White Nights featured a scene in which Gregory Hines performed "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York" as Sportin' Life. Hines' rendition, before a Siberian audience, included a tap dancing sequence. Director Taylor Hackford pointed out in a special edition DVD release of the film that it was necessary to locate a Russian woman of color (Helene Denbey) to portray Bess, as per Gershwin's stipulations.

The 1945

Other films

The Gershwin estate was disappointed with the film, as the score was substantially edited to make it more like a musical. Much of the music was omitted from the film, and many of Gershwin's orchestrations were either changed or completely scrapped. It was shown on network television in the U.S. only once, in 1967. Critics attacked it for not being faithful to Gershwin's opera, for over-refining the language grammatically, and for its "overblown" staging. The film was removed from release in 1974 by the Gershwin estate.

A Adele Addison for Dorothy Dandridge's Bess. Ruth Attaway's Serena and Diahann Carroll's Clara were also dubbed. Although Dandridge and Carroll were singers, their voices were not considered operatic enough. Sammy Davis, Jr., Brock Peters and Pearl Bailey (who played Sportin' Life, Crown and Maria) were the only principals who provided their own singing. André Previn's adaptation of the score won him an Academy Award, the film's only Oscar.

Poster for the 1959 film version

1959 film



  • 1951:
  • 1952: Alexander Smallens, who led the original 1935 production and the 1942 revival, conducts. Some of the sung recitatives are still performed as spoken dialogue in the production.
  • 1956: Frances Faye is Bess.[48] The only 3-LP version of most of the opera with white singers. (Released on CD by Rhino Records.)
  • 1976: Leona Mitchell as Bess. The recording was praised by critics for its performance quality and racial significance, but at the same time was highly criticized by some for not bringing out the "jazzier" qualities of the score.
  • 1977: RCA Victor: A subsequent complete recording of the opera by the Houston Grand Opera based on the complete original score.
  • 1989: The Glyndebourne album also based on the complete original score, without Gershwin's cuts.[49]
  • 2006: A recording of the opera made by the Nashville Symphony under John Mauceri is the first to observe Gershwin's cuts and thus present the opera as it was heard in New York in 1935. The musical cuts made on this album coincide almost exactly with those in the 1951 album, with the exception that "The Buzzard Song", usually cut in early productions, is heard on the 1951 album, and the "Occupational Humoresque", heard on the 2006 album, is not heard on the 1951 album at all. This version stars Marquita Lister as Bess.
  • 2010: RCA Victor: Jonathan Lemalu and Isabelle Kabatu.
  • 2014: EuroArts Music International: DVD and Blu-ray recorded live by San Francisco Opera in June 2009, with Eric Owens and Laquita Mitchell in the title roles.[50]

Complete recordings

In 1990, Leonard Slatkin conducted an album of excerpts from the opera, released on a Philips Records CD, with Simon Estes (who sang Porgy in the first Metropolitan Opera production of the work) and Roberta Alexander.

In 1963, Joe Sample, the trumpet of Harry Edison and guitar work of Joe Pass and Lee Ritenour. It was jazz-based with full orchestrations, but the orchestrations used were not Gershwin's.

In 1959, Adele Addison the singing voice of Bess. The white singer Loulie Jean Norman was the singing voice of Clara (portrayed onscreen by Diahann Carroll), and Inez Matthews the singing voice of Serena (portrayed onscreen by Ruth Attaway).

Although members of the jazz community initially felt that a Jewish piano player and a white novelist could not adequately convey the plight of blacks in a 1930s Charleston ghetto, jazz musicians warmed up more to the opera after twenty years, and more jazz-based recordings of it began to appear. seminal interpretation of the opera arranged for big band.

In 1942, Mabel Mercer and Cy Walter released a 78-RPM jazz album of excerpts from the opera on an obscure label.[46]

[45] Also in 1940, baritone

[44] Members of the original cast were not recorded until 1940, when

Days after the Broadway premiere of Porgy and Bess with an all-black cast, two white opera singers, Highlights from Porgy and Bess.


The 1976 and 1977 recordings of the opera won Grammy Awards for Best Opera Recording, making Porgy and Bess the only opera to win this award over two consecutive years.


The score makes use of a series of leitmotifs. Many of these represent individual characters: some of these are fragments of the opera's set numbers (Sportin' Life, for example, is frequently represented by the melody which sets the title words of "It Ain't Necessarily So"). Other motifs represent objects (such as the sleazy chromatic 'Happy Dust' motif) or places, notably Catfish Row. Many of the through-composed passages of the score combine or develop these leitmotifs in order to reflect the on-stage action. Particularly sophisticated uses of this techniques can be seen after the aria "There's a boat dat's leaving soon for New York" in act 3, scene 2. The opera also frequently reprises its set numbers (these might be considered extended Leitsektionen). Notable in this respect are the reprises of "Bess, you is my woman now" and "I got plenty o' nuttin" which conclude act 2, scene 1. The song "Summertime" is stated four times alone.

The most fundamental influences on the compositions and orchestrations in evidence throughout Porgy and Bess, along with those coming from American Jazz and Black religious music, are the European (particularly Russian) composers whose music Gershwin studied and absorbed during his tutelage with the likes of Edward Kilenyi, Rubin Goldmark, Charles Hambitzer, and Henry Cowell.[39] In addition, as biographers and contemporaries have noted, some Gershwin melodies bear similarities at times to melodies heard in Jewish liturgical music. Gershwin biographer Edward Jablonski noted such a similarity between the melody to "It Ain't Necessarily So" and the Haftarah blessing,[40] while others hear similarities with Torah blessing.[41] Allusions to Jewish music have been detected by other observers as well. One musicologist detected "an uncanny resemblance" between the folk tune Havenu Shalom Aleichem and the spiritual "It Take a Long Pull to Get There".[42]

The music itself reflects his New York jazz roots, but also draws on southern black traditions. Gershwin modeled the pieces after each type of folk song which the composer knew about; jubilees, blues, praying songs, street cries, work songs, and spirituals are blended with traditional arias and recitatives.[5]

In the summer of 1934, George Gershwin worked on the opera in Charleston, South Carolina. He drew inspiration from the James Island Gullah community, which he felt had preserved some African musical traditions. This research added to the authenticity of his work.[38]

Musical elements

"I think we've got a little jaded in the US with Porgy and Bess," says Lisa Daltirus, one of two singers who will play Bess on the UK tour. "A lot of people just think that this is a show that is lovely to listen to and happened way back when. They're not thinking that you can still find places where this is real. And if we're not careful we could be right back there."
— The Times, London, October 16, 2009[37]

During the era of Ira Gershwin, as heir to his brother, consistently refused to permit these productions to be staged. But in 2009, Cape Town Opera's production, set in 1970s South Africa and inspired by life in Soweto, toured Britain, opening at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff and going on to the Royal Festival Hall in London and Edinburgh Festival Theatre. Most of the cast were black South Africans; American singers involved in the production have found the "passionate identification with the opera" by the South African singers "a wake-up call".

[36] That Gershwin sought to write a true jazz opera, and that he believed that

Over time, however, the opera gained acceptance from the opera community and some (though not all)[33] in the African-American community. Maurice Peress stated in 2004 that "Porgy and Bess belongs as much to the black singer-actors who bring it to life as it does to the Heywards and the Gershwins."[34] Indeed, Ira Gershwin stipulated that only blacks be allowed to play the lead roles when the opera was performed in the United States, launching the careers of several prominent opera singers.

I thought it beneath me, I felt I had worked far too hard, that we had come far too far to have to retrogress to 1935. My way of dealing with it was to see that it was really a piece of Americana, of American history, whether we liked it or not. Whether I sing it or not, it was still going to be there.[5]

Gershwin's all-black opera was also unpopular with some celebrated black artists. Sidney Poitier. Betty Allen, president of The Harlem School of the Arts, admittedly loathed the piece, and Grace Bumbry, who excelled in the 1985 Metropolitan Opera production as Bess, made the often cited statement:

In the 1976 Houston Opera production, the director, Sherwin Goldman, had trouble finding interested performers. Goldman, a white Texas native and a graduate of Yale and Oxford Universities, recalled, "I was auditioning singers all around the country, I guess thirty cities in all, from theater groups to church choirs, but was having a hard time finding directors ... I don't think there was a single black person, of those who had never been associated with Porgy, who didn't seriously bad-mouth it." Nevertheless, a cast was assembled of African American classically trained performers from all around the country.[32]

The belief that Porgy and Bess was racist gained strength with the Harold Cruse called it, "The most incongruous, contradictory cultural symbol ever created in the Western World."[5]

Another production of Porgy and Bess, this time at the University of Minnesota in 1939, ran into similar troubles. According to Barbara Cyrus, one of the few black students then at the university, members of the local African-American community saw the play as "detrimental to the race" and as a vehicle that promoted racist stereotypes. The play was cancelled due to pressure from the African-American community, which saw their success as proof of the increasing political power of blacks in Minneapolis–St. Paul.[31]

A planned production by the Negro Repertory Company of Seattle in the late 1930s, part of the Federal Theatre Project, was cancelled because actors were displeased with what they viewed as a racist portrayal of aspects of African American life. The director initially envisioned that they would perform the play in a "Negro dialect." These Pacific Northwest African American actors, who did not speak in such dialect, would be coached in it. Florence James attempted a compromise of dropping the use of dialect but the production was canceled.[30]

From the outset, the opera's depiction of [29]) Several of the members of the original cast later stated that they, too, had concerns that their characters might play into a stereotype that African Americans lived in poverty, took drugs and solved their problems with their fists.

Racial controversy

On a beautiful morning, Porgy is released from jail, where he has been arrested for contempt of court after refusing to look at Crown's body. He returns to Catfish Row much richer after playing craps with his cellmates. He gives gifts to the residents, and pulls out a beautiful red dress for Bess. He does not understand why everyone seems so uneasy at his return. He sees Clara's baby is now with Serena and realizes something is wrong. He asks where Bess is. Maria and Serena tell him that Bess has run off with Sportin' Life to New York ("Oh Bess, Oh Where's my Bess?"). Porgy calls for his goat cart, and resolves to leave Catfish Row to find her. He prays for strength, and begins his journey. ("Oh, Lawd, I'm on my way")

Scene 3: Catfish Row, a week later

The detective enters and talks with Serena and her friends about the murders of Crown and Robbins. They deny knowledge of Crown's murder, frustrating the detective. Needing a witness for the coroner's inquest, he next questions an apprehensive Porgy. Once Porgy admits to knowing Crown, he is ordered to come and identify Crown's body. Sportin' Life tells Porgy that corpses bleed in the presence of their murderers, and the detective will use this to hang Porgy. Porgy refuses to identify the body, but is dragged off anyway. Bess is distraught, and Sportin' Life puts his plan into action. He tells her that Porgy will be locked up for a long time, and points out that he is the only one still here. He offers her happy dust, and though she refuses, he forces it on her. After she takes a whiff, he paints a seductive picture of her life with him in New York ("There's a boat dat's leavin' soon for New York"). She regains her strength and rushes inside, slamming the door on his face, but he leaves a packet of happy dust on her doorstep, and settles down to wait.

Scene 2: Catfish Row, the next afternoon

A group of women mourn Clara, Jake, and all of those who have been killed in the storm ("Clara, Clara, don't you be downhearted"). When they begin to mourn for Crown as well, Sportin' Life laughs at them and is told off by Maria. He insinuates that Crown may not be dead, and observes that when a woman has a man, maybe she's got him for keeps, but if she has two men, then it's highly likely she'll end up with none. Bess is heard singing Clara's lullaby to her baby, whom she is now taking care of. ("Summertime" [reprise]). Once Catfish Row is dark, Crown stealthily enters to claim Bess, but is confronted by Porgy. A fight ensues which ends when Porgy kills Crown. Porgy exclaims to Bess, "You've got a man now. You've got Porgy!"

Scene 1: Catfish Row, the next night

Act 3

The residents of Catfish Row are all gathered in Serena's room for shelter from the hurricane. They drown out the sound of the storm with prayers and hymns ("Oh, Doctor Jesus") while Sportin' Life mocks their assumption that the storm is a signal of

Scene 4: Serena's Room, dawn of the next day

Clara watches the water, fearful for Jake. Maria tries to allay her fears, but suddenly the hurricane bell begins to ring.

A week later, Jake leaves to go fishing with his crew, one of whom observes that it looks as if a storm is coming in. Peter, still unsure of his crime, returns from prison. Meanwhile, Bess is lying in Porgy's room delirious with fever, which she has had ever since returning from Kittiwah Island. Serena prays to remove Bess's affliction ("Oh, Doctor Jesus"), and promises Porgy that Bess will be well by five o'clock. As the day passes, a strawberry woman, Peter (the Honey Man) and a crab man each pass by with their wares ("Vendors' Trio"). As the clock chimes five, Bess recovers from her fever. Porgy tells Bess that he knows she has been with Crown, and she admits that Crown has promised to return for her. Porgy tells her she is free to go if she wants to, and she tells him that although she wants to stay, she is afraid of Crown's hold on her. Porgy asks her what would happen if there was no Crown, and Bess tells Porgy she loves him and begs him to protect her, and he promises that she will never have to be afraid again ("

Scene 3: Catfish Row, a week later, just before dawn

The chorus enjoys themselves at the picnic ("I ain't got no shame"). Sportin' Life presents the chorus his cynical views on the Bible ("

Scene 2: Kittiwah Island, that evening

As the rest of Catfish Row prepares for the church picnic on nearby Kittiwah Island, Sportin' Life again offers to take Bess to New York with him; she refuses. He attempts to give her some "happy dust" despite her claims that she's given up drugs, but Porgy grabs his arm and scares him off. Sportin' Life leaves, reminding Bess as he goes that her men friends come and go, but he will be there all along. Bess and Porgy are now left alone, and express their love for each other ("

Jake and the other fishermen prepare for work ("It take a long pull to get there"). Clara asks Jake not to go because it is time for the annual storms, but he tells her that they desperately need the money. This causes Porgy to sing from his window about his new, happy-go-lucky outlook on life. ("I got plenty o' nuttin"). Sportin' Life waltzes around selling "happy dust", but soon incurs the wrath of Maria, who threatens him. ("I hates yo' struttin' style"). A fraudulent lawyer, Frazier, arrives and farcically divorces Bess from Crown. When he discovers Bess and Crown were not married, he raises his price from a dollar to a dollar and a half. Archdale, a white lawyer, enters and informs Porgy that Peter will soon be released. The bad omen of a buzzard flies over Catfish Row and Porgy demands that it leave now that he finally has found happiness. ("Buzzard keep on flyin' over".)

Scene 1: Catfish Row, a month later, in the morning

Act 2

"My Man's Gone Now" sung by Cynthia Clarey in the Glyndebourne production (stage version)

The opera begins with a short introduction which segues into an evening in Catfish Row. Jasbo Brown entertains the community with his piano playing. Clara, a young mother, sings a lullaby to her baby ("dissection). He suddenly accuses Peter of Robbins's murder. Peter denies his guilt and says Crown was the murderer. The Detective orders Peter to be arrested as a material witness, whom he will force to testify against Crown. Serena laments her loss in "My Man's Gone Now". The undertaker enters. The saucer holds only fifteen dollars of the needed twenty-five, but he agrees to bury Robbins as long as Serena promises to pay him back. Bess, who has been sitting in silence slightly apart from the rest of those gathered, suddenly begins to sing a gospel song and the chorus joyfully join in, welcoming her into the community. ("Oh, the Train is at de Station")

Scene 1: Catfish Row, a summer evening

Act 1

Place: Catfish Row, a fictitious black tenement (once, a mansion of the aristocracy) on the waterfront of Charleston, South Carolina.
Time: The "recent past" (c. 1930).


With the exception of the small speaking roles, all of the characters are black.

Role Voice type Premiere cast
September 30, 1935
(Conductor: Alexander Smallens)
Porgy, a disabled beggar bass-baritone Todd Duncan
Bess, Crown's girl soprano Anne Brown
Crown, a tough stevedore baritone Warren Coleman
Sportin' Life, a dope peddler tenor John W. Bubbles
Robbins, an inhabitant of Catfish Row tenor Henry Davis
Serena, Robbins' wife soprano Ruby Elzy
Jake, a fisherman baritone Edward Matthews
Clara, Jake's wife soprano Abbie Mitchell
Maria, keeper of the cook-shop contralto Georgette Harvey
Mingo tenor Ford L. Buck
Peter, the honeyman tenor Gus Simons
Lily, Peter's wife soprano Helen Dowdy
Frazier, a black "lawyer" baritone J. Rosamond Johnson
Annie mezzo-soprano Olive Ball
Strawberry woman mezzo-soprano Helen Dowdy
Jim, a cotton picker baritone Jack Carr
Undertaker baritone John Garth
Nelson tenor Ray Yeates
Crab man tenor Ray Yeates
Scipio, a small boy boy soprano
Mr. Archdale, a white lawyer spoken George Lessey
Detective spoken Alexander Campbell
Policeman spoken Burton McEvilly
Coroner spoken George Carleton
The Eva Jessye Choir, led by Eva Jessye


This production ran at the Nicola Hughes (Bess), Cedric Neal (Sporting Life), Phillip Boykin (Crown), Sharon D. Clarke (Mariah), Jade Ewen (Clara) and Golda Rosheuvel (Serena). The production was directed by Timothy Sheader, and also used the book adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks, and music adapted by Diedre Murray.[26] It was nominated at the Olivier Awards for Best Musical Revival.

2014 The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (London production)

[25] The production was nominated for 10 awards in the 2012

Early reviews of the show were positive to mixed. All praised McDonald's performance of Bess, but critics were divided on the success of the adaptation, staging and setting. Some praised the intimate scale of the drama and the believability of the performances; others found the staging to be unfocused and the settings to lack atmosphere.[22] Time magazine ranked the show as its number two choice among theatre productions in 2011.[23]

The production began previews on Broadway at the David Alan Grier as Sportin' Life, Phillip Boykin as Crown, Nikki Renee Daniels as Clara, and Joshua Henry as Jake.[21] All of the major roles are played by the same cast as in Cambridge.

Prior to the opening, Paulus, Parks and Murray made statements to the press about the production's primary goal being to "introduce the work to the next generation of theatergoers".[18] They discussed changes to the opera's plot, dialogue and score that were being explored to make the work more appealing to a contemporary audience.[16] In response, Stephen Sondheim wrote an editorial letter criticizing Paulus, McDonald and Park's "disdain" toward the work, and criticized the new title because it underplayed the contribution of Heyward.[19] Critic Hilton Als countered in The New Yorker that Sondheim had very little exposure to black culture and that the Paulus version succeeded in "humanizing the depiction of race onstage."[20]

Another production titled The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, directed by recitatives.[16] William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke created new orchestrations for the production.[17]

2011 The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (Paulus adaptation)

This original cast of this version included Nicola Hughes as Bess, O. T. Fagbenle as Sportin' Life, and Cornel S. John as Crown.

The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess premiered on November 9, 2006, at the Savoy Theatre (London), directed by Trevor Nunn. (Although that was the title given to this production, the 1993 television adaptation of Nunn's 1986 production had also used it.) For this new production, he adapted the lengthy opera to fit the conventions of musical theatre. Working with the Gershwin and Heyward estates, Nunn used dialogue from the original novel and subsequent Broadway stage play to replace the recitatives with naturalistic scenes. He did not use operatic voices in this production, but relied on musical theatre actors as leads. Gareth Valentine provided the musical adaptation. Despite mostly positive reviews,[14] Nunn's production closed months early due to poor box office.

2006 The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (Nunn adaptation)

South Africa's Welsh National Opera, NorrlandsOperan, Deutsche Oper Berlin and at the Wales Millennium Centre, Royal Festival Hall and Edinburgh Festival Theatre. In October 2010, its planned tour of the opera to Israel was criticised by Desmond Tutu.[13]

The centennial celebration of the Gershwin brothers from 1996–1998 included a new production as well. On February 24–25, 2006, the concert performance at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. It incorporated Gershwin's cuts made for the New York premiere, thus giving the audience an idea of what the opera sounded like on its Broadway opening. In 2000 and 2002 the New York City Opera had a revival directed by Tazewell Thompson. In 2007, Los Angeles Opera staged a revival directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by John DeMain, who led the history-making Houston Opera revival of Porgy and Bess in 1976.

Trevor Nunn first tackled the work in an acclaimed 1986 production at England's Glyndebourne Festival. The 1986 Trevor Nunn production was scenically expanded and videotaped for television in 1993 (see below in "Television"). These productions were also based on the "complete score," without incorporating Gershwin's revisions. A semi-staged version of this production was performed at the Proms in 1998.

The Simon Estes, Grace Bumbry, Bruce Hubbard, Gregg Baker and Florence Quivar. The Met production was directed by Nathaniel Merrill and designed by Robert O'Hearn. The conductor was James Levine.[12] The production received 16 performances in its first season and was revived in 1986, 1989 and 1990 for a total of 54 performances.

Another Broadway production was staged in 1983 at Radio City Music Hall, based on the Houston production.[11]

Subsequent productions

During the 1960s and early 1970s, Porgy and Bess mostly languished on the shelves, a victim of its perceived racism in a racially charged time. Though new productions took place in 1961 and 1964 along with a Clamma Dale and Larry Marshall starred, respectively, as Bess and Sportin' Life. This production won the Houston Grand Opera a Tony Award—the only opera ever to receive one—and a Grammy Award. The conductor was John DeMain.

1976 Houston Grand Opera production

During this tour, Porgy and Bess was presented at La Scala in Milan for the first time, in February 1955. A historic yet tense premiere took place in Moscow in December 1955, the first time an American theater group had been to the Soviet capital since the Bolshevik Revolution. Author Truman Capote traveled with the cast and crew, and wrote an account included in his book The Muses Are Heard.

After a tour of Europe financed by the Gloria Davy as Bess. The production first toured Europe for performances in Venice, Paris, London, and other cities in Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia.[8][9] The company also made a stop at the Cairo Opera House in Egypt in January 1955.[8] In 1955-1956 the company made further appearances in the Middle East, Africa, Russia, and Latin America.[10]

Notable also was this production's original cast, with Ol' Man River" in the popular 1951 MGM film of Show Boat.

[7], where it remained until February 10, 1953.Stoll Theatre The London premiere took place on October 9, 1952 at the [4]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.