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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


DVD Review
George (1898- 1937) and Ira GERSHWIN
Porgy and Bess

Opera in three acts
Libretto by DuBose Heyward. Lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin
The large cast is headed by:-
Porgy……………..Willard White
Bess………………Cynthia Haymon
Crown…………….Gregg Baker
Serena…………….Cynthia Clarey
Maria……………..Marietta Simpson
Sportin’ Life…… Damon Evans
Clara………………Paula Ingram (sung by Harolyn Blackwell)
Jake……………….Gordon Hawkins (sung by Bruce Hubbard)
Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Rattle
Recorded at Shepperton Studios in 1992.
EMI DVD 4 92496 9 [184 mins]


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Willard White has become synonymous with the role of Porgy: his commanding presence yet noble vulnerability captures the character perfectly – and what a voice! He heads the cast in both the universally recommended recordings: Lorin Maazel’s warm and passionate, pioneering version for Decca 4145592 (3 CDs) made in 1976; and this wonderful Glyndebourne, Trevor Nunn realisation which could hardly be surpassed. It was first committed to CD by EMI (CDS 5 56220 2 – 3 CDs ) in 1989. A video recording based on the Glyndebourne production but filmed on a wider stage to open out the production was shot at Shepperton film studios, in the Autumn of 1992 and was later released on Laserdisc (LDD 4 91131 1) and VHS MVB 4 91131 3. This is its DVD ‘reincarnation’.

It should be understood that this is a film rather than a theatrical presentation. This has its drawbacks as well as its advantages. On the plus side we have an opening up of the action to include a terrifyingly graphic storm sequence in which Clara meets her doom as she anxiously looks out over the hurricane-tossed jetty for signs of her husband’s doomed fishing boat. But the impact of Gershwin’s storm music is blunted. The advantage of intimate close-ups is that characterisation is aided. This adds luminosity through the chemistry of Willard White and Cynthia Haymon as Bess. Although this is hardly necessary in the case of Damon Evans’s deliciously over-the-top performance as Sportin’ Life. He steals the show whenever he appears and his ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ (although the sound engineering at this point does him no favours) and ‘Listen; there’s a boat dat’s leavin’ soon for New York’ light up the screen. The film proceeds without any natural breaks as in the theatre; the change of scenes and acts are not flagged up at all. This is fine for the sake of dramatic tension and continuity but when important numbers like the Buzzard Song of Act II, Scene I are omitted, then this reviewer for one feels cheated.

Having said all that the casting and singing right down to the smallest part is well-nigh perfect. The set designs, costumes, art direction and lighting all delight.

For those who are coming to the Gershwin’s opera for the first time they are in for a fabulous treat – a heartwarming story, tragic but never without hope; and brimming with the most wonderful, vibrant melodies like: ‘Summertime’, ‘I got plenty of nuthin’ , ‘Bess, you is my woman now’, ‘Oh, I can’t sit down’, ‘Oh, the train is at the station…’, ‘Oh Lawd I’m on my way’ and the two Sportin’ Life numbers already mentioned, plus many more.

For Gershwin enthusiasts a real treat, perfectly cast, beautifully sung and very well staged. But in the transfer from stage to film, purists should note that there are casualties like the omission of the Buzzard Song.

Ian Lace


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