- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

In a company first, the Washington National Opera is mounting a big-screen simulcast of George Gershwin’s popular “Porgy and Bess” on the Mall, Sunday at 2 p.m. The live matinee taking place at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House at that time will be beamed to a huge 18-by-32-foot LED screen and sound system that will be erected on the Mall near Seventh Street, according to Jennifer Crier Johnston, the opera company’s spokeswoman.

The performance also will be recorded for rebroadcast in the Washington area on WETA-FM, across the United States via National Public Radio, and to 23 European countries. It marks the first time a live opera performance has been telecast to the Mall.

Free to the public, the broadcast is a gift of the opera company’s trustees, who envision couples and families bundling up for the weather and hauling picnic feasts to the viewing area to see what probably is the most popular American opera of all time — just like they would to a tailgate party for a Redskins game.

Featuring a black cast and a chorus of top-notch local singers, “Porgy” boasts timeless mega-hits, including “Summertime,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

The audience “will know all the music” and will hear “some of the greatest African-American singers in the world,” says Washington Opera General Director Placido Domingo, who states that he is “very happy that thousands of people will be able to enjoy this opera for free.” U.S. Park Service estimates of the expected crowd size range from 5,000 to 15,000.

Gershwin’s opera is set in Catfish Row, a marginal black neighborhood in early 20th-century Charleston, S.C. Porgy, a disabled beggar with a heart of gold, wins and loses Bess to “happy dust” and villains Crown and Sportin’ Life, enduring a full-blown hurricane in the process. Like any good hero, however, Porgy is down but never out, and he lights out to follow Bess to New York City as the curtain falls.

Sunday’s matinee, which will run about three hours, including an intermission, features last week’s opening-night cast, including baritone (and Maryland native) Gordon Hawkins as Porgy, soprano Indira Mahajan as Bess, bass Terry Cook as bad guy Crown, and tenor Jermaine Smith as the amoral Sportin’ Life.

The show’s outdoor viewing setup is very similar to the giant telescreens used for instant replays in sports venues such as the MCI Center or Madison Square Garden, according to freelance video director Bruce Bryant. Mr. Bryant is helming a crew that includes professionals from Staging Solutions Inc. who will undertake the complex task of bringing the fine details, the music and the vitality of a live indoor show to an open-air venue. The opera company’s Beth Krynicki will serve as his assistant director.

Collaborating with the live production’s director, Francesca Zambello, Mr. Bryant has been observing rehearsals and live performances for more than a week in order to determine the optimal but unobtrusive placement of six cameras around the Opera House. Cameras will be perched stage left and right, toward the back and up in the balcony, according to Mr. Bryant, who already has directed 260 live operas for television.

“When possible, the cameras are mounted at the optimum eye level of the performers,” he says. “And for close-ups from the back of the hall, we’re using what we call ‘extreme sports lenses,’ the same 70 mm lenses they use at sporting events.”

Mr. Bryant is enthusiastic about the ability of his crew to bring a memorable live show to a large audience. “I think the overall experience will be overwhelmingly positive,” he says. “In the Opera House, audiences will experience real characters and real emotions and might even see some tears being shed. But on our big screen, you’ll be able to see their hearts break.”

For more information on the special screening of “Porgy and Bess,” call the Washington Opera at 202/295-2400 or visit its Web site at www.dc-opera.org.

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