- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

“Porgy and Bess”

Kennedy Center Opera House

Through Nov. 19

SYNOPSIS Under the direction of Francesca Zambello, the Washington National Opera opens its first-ever production of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” at the Kennedy Center Opera House tonight at 7. The composer’s masterpiece is set in Catfish Row, an impoverished black neighborhood in early 20th-century Charleston, S.C., where Porgy — a disabled, out-of-luck beggar — wins and loses Bess to “happy dust” and bad guys Crown and Sportin’ Life. But, like every red-blooded American, Porgy refuses to admit defeat.

HISTORY — Composed by George Gershwin, with a book by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and lyrics by Ira Gershwin, “Porgy and Bess” essentially flopped on Broadway when it opened 70 years ago. Over the years, however, Gershwin has been vindicated. His jazz-infused opera is regarded by many as the greatest American contribution to this art form. Since its opening run, “Porgy” has also helped launch generations of black opera singers into a glittering world once closed to them because of their race.

STARS — In a rotating cast of principals, Maryland-born baritone Gordon Hawkins (Porgy), soprano Indira Mahajan (Bess) and bass Terry Cook (Crown) will alternate with counterparts Kevin Short, Morenike Fadayomi and Lester Lynch in the title roles. Baritone Jermaine Smith (Sportin’ Life) will appear in all the performances, as will jazz pianist Eric Reed, who appears as Jasbo Brown, a role sometimes cut to shorten the work but restored in this production.

WHY SHOULD I GO? — Do timeless hits like “Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “My Man’s Gone Now,” and “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’ ” ring a bell? Well, they’re all from “Porgy and Bess,” along with a lot of other fabulous, distinctly American music, including a wild onstage hurricane scene that’s somehow appropriate in a season that has brought us Katrina, Rita and Wilma in short order. From the golden musical age of the 1930s, “Porgy” brings us to the high point of symphonic jazz, and there’s nothing quite like it.

T.L. Ponick

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