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George and Ira Gershwin's Porgy and Bess

John Wilson conducts an outstanding cast, chorus and orchestra in English National Opera's universally acclaimed production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.

English National Opera's universally acclaimed production of George Gershwin's 1935 opera was this season's hot ticket. From its opening number "Summertime", through songs including "I Got Plenty of Nothin'", "Bess, You is My Woman Now" and “It Ain’t Necessarily So”, Porgy and Bess is stuffed full of hits as it tells a compelling story of love and violence in a poor South Carolina fishing community, played here by the Porgy and Bess Ensemble. This international chorus, specially formed for the run, together with an outstanding cast led by Eric Greene and Nicole Cabel in the title roles and the Orchestra of ENO conducted by John Wilson proved beyond a doubt that Porgy and Bess is one of the great operatic masterpieces of the 20th century.

Recorded in October at the Coliseum and presented by Geoffrey Smith in conversation with anthropologist and critic Dr Kit Davis, and including contributions from director James Robinson, conductor John Wilson and members of the cast.

Acts 1 and 2

8.20pm
Interval

8.40pm
Act 3

Porgy.....Eric Greene (tenor)
Bess……Nicole Cabell (soprano)
Crown……Nmon Ford (baritone)
Serena……Latonia Moore (soprano)
Clara……Nadine Benjamin (soprano)
Maria……Tichina Vaughn (mezzo-soprano)
Jake……Donovan Singletary (bass-baritone)
Sporting Life……Frederick Ballentine (tenor)
Mingo……Rheinaldt Tshepo Moagi (tenor)
Robbins/Crab Man……Chaz’men Williams-Ali (tenor)
Peter……Ronald Samm (tenor)
Frazier……Byron Jackson (baritone)
Annie……Sarah-Jane Lewis (mezzo-soprano)
Lily……Pumza Mxinwa (soprano)
Strawberry Woman……Nozuko Teto (mezzo-soprano)
Jim……Njabulo Madlala (baritone)
Undertaker......Whitaker Mills (baritone)
Nelson……Thando Mjandana (tenor)
Detective……Stephen Pallister
Policeman……Christian Hurst
Coroner……Neil Kelly
Porgy and Bess Ensemble (chorus)
Orchestra of English National Opera
John Wilson (conductor)

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton / ENO
For full synopsis visit the programme page

3 hours, 14 minutes

Music Played

  • George Gershwin

    Porgy and Bess Acts I and II

    Performer: English National Opera Chorus. Performer: English National Opera Orchestra. Singer: Eric Greene. Singer: Nicole Cabell. Conductor: John Wilson.
  • George Gershwin

    Porgy and Bess Act III

    Performer: English National Opera Chorus. Performer: English National Opera Orchestra. Singer: Eric Greene. Singer: Nicole Cabell. Conductor: John Wilson.
  • George Gershwin

    Prelude No 2 (Three Preludes for piano)

    Performer: Michael Tilson Thomas.
    • Gershwin : The 1920's & the 1930's: Tilson Thomas.
    • CBS.
    • 2.

Synopsis

The action takes place in Catfish Row, a tenement neighbourhood of Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1920s.

Act I

Scene 1 A summer evening

The inhabitants of Catfish Row are relaxing after a day’s work. Clara sings a lullaby to her baby. The drug-dealer Sporting Life, Clara’s husband Jake, and some of the other men are playing craps under the disapproving eye of the religious Serena. Jake sings a lullaby of his own to the baby. The disabled beggar Porgy arrives and is about to join the game when Crown and his partner Bess appear. The loudmouthed Crown joins the dice game. Drunk and high on drugs, he loses, starts a fight and kills Robbins with a cotton hook. Before the police arrive, Crown runs off to hide, telling Bess he’ll be back for her. Bess is shunned by the community as they await the arrival of the police. Sporting Life offers to take her to New York with him, but she refuses. Only Porgy is sympathetic to her: he offers her shelter and his protection, which she accepts.

Scene 2 In Serena’s room, the following evening

Robbins’s widow Serena leads the mourners at her husband’s funeral. A collection is being taken to meet the cost of the burial. Porgy and Bess enter, and Bess offers Serena a contribution which at first she refuses thinking it must be Crown’s money. It is accepted when it is explained that it is Porgy’s.

The proceedings are interrupted by the arrival of police officers, who at first accuse Peter the Honeyman of the murder. Fearing what might happen, he tells them that Crown was  responsible but is himself promptly arrested as a ‘material witness’. Serena convinces the undertaker to bury Robbins for less than his usual fee. Bess leads everyone in an exultant spiritual.

Scene 3 A month later

Jake and the other fishermen are mending their nets. Porgy compares his life to theirs. Sporting Life enters but before he has an opportunity to peddle any of his ‘happy dust’ he is chased away by Maria, the matriarch of Catfish Row. ‘Lawyer’ Frazier sells Bess a divorce, even though she and Crown were never married.

Everyone is preparing to leave for a church picnic on Kittiwah Island. Sporting Life asks Bess again to come to New York with him and tries to give her more dope, which she refuses. Porgy threatens him and chases him off. He and Bess reflect on their newfound happiness. Porgy insists that Bess should go to the picnic without him. At first, she refuses, not wanting to leave him alone, but eventually she yields to his persuasion and joins the others as they set off.

Scene 4 On Kittiwah Island, the evening of the same day

Sporting Life describes his own cynical view of religion to some of the revellers, until Serena chastises them for being taken in by his stories. The steamboat whistle announces its time to leave and everyone starts to pack up their belongings. Bess hurries along until Crown, who has been hiding on the island since the Robbins murder, calls out to her. He wants Bess to come with him, but she explains that she now has a new life with Porgy. Crown forces her to stay with him.

Act II

Scene 1 Catfish Row, at dawn a week later

Despite a storm warning, fishermen leave for a day’s work at sea. Bess is heard talking deliriously from Porgy’s room. She has been feverish and ill since returning from Kittiwah Island. Peter, released from police custody that morning, advises Porgy to take her to hospital, but Serena would rather pray for her recovery. Her prayers are answered: Bess emerges into the courtyard, free of the fever. She explains to Porgy that she wants to stay with him but that when Crown returns she’ll be forced to go back to him. Porgy tells her that she doesn’t have to go with Crown, and he and Bess reaffirm their love for each other. The wind begins to rise and the hurricane bell sounds.

Scene 2 In Serena’s room, at dawn the following day

Everyone cowers together in fear and they pray for deliverance from the storm. Suddenly, there’s a knock at the door: it’s Crown seeking shelter and looking for Bess. She won’t go with him, insisting she belongs to Porgy alone. He mocks Porgy and the frightened townspeople and counteracts their prayers for deliverance with a vulgar song. At the storm’s height, Clara sees Jake’s boat has overturned and rushes out to save her husband. Bess calls for one of the men to go after her. Crown is the only one to respond.

Scene 3 Catfish Row, the following night

The storm has passed. The women grieve for those who have been lost, including Jake, Clara and, it is assumed, Crown. Sporting Life appears, mocks their weeping and hints that Crown is still alive. Bess is seen at a window lulling Clara’s baby to sleep. Under the cover of darkness, Crown steals in and approaches Porgy’s door. But Porgy is ready for him, strikes the first blow and kills him.

Scene 4 The next afternoon

The detective returns to Catfish Row, accompanied by the coroner. They are investigating Crown’s murder, but their questioning of Serena and two other women draws a blank. They go to Porgy’s room and tell him he must come with them and identify Crown’s body. Horrified that he must look at Crown’s face, Porgy refuses to go and has to be dragged off. Taking advantage of Porgy’s absence, Sporting Life tries to convince Bess that Porgy will be locked up for certain, and he attempts to lure her away to a new life. When Bess spurns him, he forces some dope on her and leaves more outside her door as he leaves.

Scene 5 Early morning, a week later

The inhabitants of Catfish Row greet each other at the beginning of another day. Porgy returns from jail in jubilant mood: he distributes gifts he has bought with money he won playing games of crap in jail. He is unaware of his friends’ discomfort as he calls out for Bess. Eventually Serena and Maria tell him that Bess has gone to New York with Sporting Life. Hearing this, Porgy decides to follow her: he cannot live without Bess.


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