GERSHWIN Porgy and Bess (Robertson)

Record and Artist Details

Genre:

Opera

Label: Metropolitan Opera

Media Format: CD or Download

Mastering:

DDD

Catalogue Number: 1000420118

1000420118. GERSHWIN Porgy and Bess (Robertson)

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
Porgy and Bess Latonia Moore
Denyce Graves
Eric Owens
Frederick Ballentine
Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Angel Blue
Ryan Speedo Green
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Alfred Walker
Golda Schultz
David Robertson

As a souvenir of a great night in the theatre this attractively designed own-label Metropolitan Opera release merits a warm recommendation. Sadly the welcome cannot be unqualified. Those anticipating a ‘complete’ Porgy and Bess along the lines of John DeMain’s Houston Grand Opera presentation or Simon Rattle’s Glyndebourne offshoot are likely to be disappointed. Sourced from public performances, the recording really is live – to the extent that you can hear the crowd applauding the first appearance of the set. James Robinson’s Met production, which actually debuted at English National Opera in 2018, is not alone in reimagining Gershwin’s intended three-act structure as a sprawling two-acter. For this CD incarnation, however, confusion reigns. The synopsis describes the action in terms of the two acts while the track-listing goes back to the original three. Either way, half an hour’s music has gone AWOL. A subplot vanishes and we lose the opening piano blues, Porgy’s biggest aria and more. The white detective’s resort to the N-word is airbrushed away and what’s left of the final scene feels inconsequential. At least the show is not turned into a musical.

These stumbling blocks aside, the news is positive. The cast is strong. If Golda Schultz as Clara is less silvery than Barbara Hendricks for Lorin Maazel, her omission of the high note at the end of ‘Summertime’ is not necessarily a cop-out: it can be construed as authentic. Angel Blue’s Bess might just be the finest since Leontyne Price’s (with Alexander Smallens). Perhaps it had to be a soft-grained portrayal given that the pruned text gives her diminished agency, a casualty of superstition and oppression who here seems as much a victim of her own weak character and physical beauty. Latonia Moore has some of Gershwin’s best music as Serena and she brings the house down with an impassioned, super-articulate account of ‘My man’s gone now’. Much of the disruptive mid-scene ovation is retained. Denyce Graves plays Maria, the piece’s sturdiest female character. Not a huge role for the Met stalwart but a vital one, bringing dignity and verisimilitude to a community that can come across as a cardboard cut-out. She delights the audience with her delivery of ‘I hates yo’ struttin’ style’. Likewise Leah Hawkins, spectacular, shining and free (albeit slightly under the note) as the Strawberry Woman in a telescoped street vendors’ trio turned duet.

The men are fine if not quite in the same league. Eric Owens appears less affected by the health issues that impacted on his Porgy by the time of the Met’s cinema relay. Though lacking Willard White’s vocal ardour (especially in his earlier recording under Maazel), Owens’s stoical conception of the role and grainier vocal quality are by no means incompatible with the older protagonist the story implies. Ryan Speedo Green’s Jake arguably out-sings Alfred Walker’s necessarily rougher-sounding Crown. For those unfamiliar with his athletic physical presence, Frederick Ballentine’s vaudevillian Sportin’ Life may seem at odds with the gravitas and refinement coming from the orchestra pit. David Robertson conducts with perspicacity, prizing fine detail over swing or drive – which is one way to go. He is less interventionist than Rattle, less idiomatic than DeMain. The special chorus hired for the occasion is fabulous, the sound stage appealingly spacious yet well focused by David Frost’s sound team. Camille A Brown’s noisily intrusive choreography cannot be entirely eliminated. No libretto is provided but for the most part the words are wonderfully clear.

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