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George and Ira Gershwin, Porgy and Bess (Second Opinion): Cape Town Opera at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 31.10.2009 (SRT)

Conductor, David Charles Abell
Director, Christine Crouse
Designer, Michael Mitchell
Lighting designer, Declan Randall
Choreographer, Sibonakaliso Ndaba
Chorus Master, Albert Horne


Porgy, Ntobeko Rwanqa
Bess, Kearstin Piper Brown
Crown, Thabo Makhebesela
Serena, Arline Jaftha
Clara, Pretty Yende
Maria, Miranda Tini
Jake, Aubrey Lodewyk
Sportin’ Life, Sandile Kamele
Mingo, Mthunzi Mbombela

Chorus, Voice of the Nation Ensemble
Orchestra of Cape Town Opera

Bill Kenny reviewed this production’s UK premiere at the Wales Millennium Centre. I don’t have much to add about the production, but I was lucky enough to catch an Edinburgh cast where all the major roles were sung by different singers. No-one could have left feeling short-changed as the company turned in a vocal powerhouse. They were led by a fantastic Bess in Kearstin Piper Brown. She injected real passion and a rich vein of spirituality into her performance, connecting with a compulsively African view of the afterlife as she led the spiritual at the end of the first act. Her physical acting was also among the most convincing, seeming to come most alive when she played the vamp in the red dress at the very beginning and ending of the opera. Her Porgy, Ntobeko Rwanqa, had a rich, beautiful baritone which was secure at the top and middle, though somewhat weaker at the bottom so unfortunately much of I got plenty of nuttin’ was lost in the overall texture. Most of his performance was very moving, however, not least his duets with Bess, and especially I loves you Porgy.

Thabo Makhebesela’s Crown was villainous but insidiously beautiful too, playing with the listener’s ear and widening out your expectations of the character. Sportin’ Life, the only other change, was rather coarse and in-your-face in the interpretation of Sandile Kamele. This villain wasn’t the serpent in Eden; more the bully in the locker room. It ain’t necessarily so sounded rather crude to my ears, but he was a convincing rogue in his final scene with Bess. I can certainly echo Bill Kenny’s praise for a beautifully sung Clara and Jake, as well as a formidable Serena: her lament for her dead husband really raised the roof!

The production itself thumped with energy, colour and life, as well it should be under the circumstances of the time it was depicting. It was undeniably helped by a sharp, finely detailed orchestral performance, controlled with precision and skill by David Charles Abell.

The final curtain calls brought the EFT crowd to its feet with cheers for the heroes and boos for the villains - unusual for an Edinburgh opera audience, but justifiable praise for a great company.

Simon Thompson

Picture ©  Kiran Ridley

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