Cher Public

Save the Bess for last

Well, actually, it appears Michael Riedel was misinformed. (Alert the media!) The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess is, in fact, coming to Broadway. [New York Times]

  • manou

    Ben tornata, Cieca!

  • Satisfied

    I will travel for theater and opera. This past weekend I went to Boston for the former. This ain’t necessarily P&G as written, but it’s really quite good. Audra has (deservedly) been given all the praise, but Norm Lewis is quite sensational.

    Paulus’ “conventions” for the production were also fairly innocuous. This isn’t the work of great visionaries (except for Christopher Akerlind’s inspired lighting design), but it hardly deserved the advanced criticism it received.

    Is this opera? No. Very very entertaining theater? Most definitely.

    • Satisfied

      I would also like to add: I was physically affected today by Parterre’s absence.

      Sad but true.

  • I saw Porgy and Bess in Boston. Audra and Norm broke my heart. A great evening at the theater.

  • Will

    This is all very good to hear. The ART is highly variable in its own productions — some are infuriatingly perverse — but this P&B is a separate unit and apparently a good one.

    This is all very good to hear. The ART can be frustratingly perverse in its own productions, but this is a separate unit and, however controversial, apparently a good one.

  • Camille

    I’m absolutely delighted as I’ve missed the one chance I’ve had (San Francisco 2 years ago) to see this wonderful work. It sure beats the tar out of going to another Haensel und Gretel in December!

    In the other article there was a quote that astonished me about “no one can sell out a Broadway show”—something to that effect. Shouldn’t Audra McDonald, for heaven sakes? Are things really that tough on Broadway?

    • mandryka

      What nonsense. There are quite a few people who can sell out. Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, and others. Nathan Lane gave quite a shot in the arm to the fairly badly panned Adams extravaganza. And a great show will sell out without any stars at all.

      • The Adams Family
        Da da da dum (snap snap)
        Da da da dum (snap snap)
        Da da da dum (snap snap) (pah pah)
        Da da da dum (snap snap) (pah-pah pah)
        Da da da dum (snap snap) (pah pah pah-pah pah pah)

  • phoenix

    — Racism, parallel or counter, overt or covert, whether from Richard Wagner or the Gershwin Estate or anywhere, should be recognized as such… but it should not stand in the way of one’s appreciation of a specific work of art, providing one sincerely enjoys that particular work of art and is not just giving lip service to perceived politically correct veneration.
    — Is the (apparently unwritten) tradition of counter-racial discimination in casting productions of Porgy and Bess still in effect? I always found it most interesting, particularly considering Gershwin’s own parents came to the USA from Russia & Ukraine to escape racial persecution in the late 19th century. Although affirmative actionists will undoubtedly disagree with me, I find that racism is racism, parallel or counter.
    — How is the Gershwin Estate casting committee faring now in the 21st century? Has a light-skinner with DNA proven documentation of at least some African ancestry brought a lawsuit against them because they don’t consider him dark enough yet? Or have the counter-racial barriers of Porgy and Bess already been abolished as they were at the celebratory Met Ballo of 1955? Either I haven’t come across any news about it or the matter has been settled behind closed doors.
    — I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the work. I am a Scott Joplin fan, so I am on the wrong turf with Porgy and Bess, which I find to be a group of musical snapshots of blues mixed with (not enough) ragtime, evolving into what, I guess, became the urban jazz style of the mid-20th century (which I call the ‘blues noire’). I kept waiting around for the authenticity of Bessie Smith, but she didn’t pay a visit to Catfish Row. I definititely heard Billie Holiday somewhere crooning in the background, but since I didn’t care much for her art, I just let it slide.
    — Sorry, but I find the blues in Porgy and Bess too blue for me. What people complain about in Khovanschina (which I love) is exactly what I find boring about Porgy and Bess: the musical numbers drag and are too calculated to be entertaining as authentic folkmusic. Although I’m pleased that many people genuinely enjoy performances of Porgy and Bess, personally I find it to be a despairing funeral dirge, definitely NOT inspiring.

    • Krunoslav

      This post shows a curiously limited grasp of social history and theatre tradition. What the Gershwins wanted to avoid was white actoirs in blackface playing the parts-- Ethel Barrymore had done a blackface B’way show as recently as 1930 (SCARLET SISTER MARY)in which this theatrical grandee, her daughter, Marjorie Main and Estelle Winwood (!) appeared all corked up. Many found this disappetizing, though the tradition died hard.

      The Gershwins’ strictures against blackface performances kept many African-American singers working for decades in which opportunities were limited.

      If you find these choices racist, I imagine you weep for the rich tax-avoiding victims of the unions’ “class warfare”.

      • OpinionatedNeophyte

        While it may seem nice that the Gershwins demanded that only black singers perform in Porgy and Bess that stipulation served to prop up racial discrimination within opera for decades to come. For many years any opera singer of African descent performing in the states was forced to make their way in Porgy and Bess. Why on earth should opera companies challenge their customers backwards assumptions about the dramatic, linguistic, intellectual and emotional limitations of “Negros” by casting them in noble roles like Donna Anna or Wotan when they can fall back on casting them as Bess and Porgy?

        To pretend that this dynamic didn’t function to typecast black singers for decades is to ignore heaps of empirical evidence. While Marian Anderson broke the color barrier at the Met, it was L. Price, Bumbry, Verrett and Grist who broke the dignity barrier for black women in opera. Namely that they were able to make it without singing Bess. Price’s career is really instructive here. That 1952 tour where she performed Bess (omg and so beautifully) should serve as a historical turning point. Soon after she was able to retire the role entirely and never pick it up again. If you take the time to go through her press reports in the 1950s she, very gradually, becomes less and less associated with her role in Bess and more associated as a great soprano in her own right. For the 60s singers, no such transition was necessary.

        The same is not true for black men. Take L. Price’s first husband William Warfield. Who, of course, was no where near the talent of his wife but who was never able to make it beyond Porgy and his twin Ol Man River. He sang these types of roles his entire career. For black tenors the legacy of Porgy annd Bess, I argue, is even more pernicious. For black sopranos and baritones, I would suggest that Porgy and Bess laid a kind of foundation for their eventual integration into the operatic mainstream (and even thats a stretch). But with no major tenor role, our reliance upon Porgy and Bess to understand the capabilities of black opera singers combined with audiences unwillingness to imagine black men as romantic leads (nothing romantic about Porgy) has made it significantly more difficult for black tenors to make it in this country. George Shirley, by sheer will, was able to have some success in romantic roles, but between him and Lawrence Brownlee there is a yawning gap of years with no major romantic tenors on the Metropolitan stage. This despite the existence of the incomporable Thomas Young. Heard here, well past his prime, and forced to tour in that ridiculous 3 ‘Mo Tenors concert to pay bills. And *still* the man demonstrates why he should’ve been a mainstay at the world’s great opera houses.

        httpv://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=nessun+dorma+3+mo+tenors&aq=f

        Are these racist trends in opera casting the fault of the Gewshwins. Of course not, nor would I ascribe them any malicious intent. Like the paternalitic white liberals who used to compliment Colin Power on “how well he speaks,” the Gershwins were doing the best they could within an explicitly white supremacist country and culture. Nonetheless, if we think white supremacy is a bad thing (and I can assume most on this board do, though there are a few I might cut a side-eye to on the matter) then we shouldn’t perpetuate the Porgy and Bess casting rule as a good thing for black classical singers, it isn’t and wasn’t.

        • And Brownlee still seems weirdly under-utilized, given that he’s arguably the best in his fach.

          (Add here the caveat that should be used more often, that I know zip about what actually goes on in casting at the Met, and for all I know he doesn’t go after Met assignments.)

          • armerjacquino

            I’d guess that the underuse of Brownlee stems from the fact that every time an opera in his rep comes up, the Met tends to go for the star power of Florez. I hope so, anyway.

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            Based on how Fille is selling Brownlee may not be as popular as you or I think he should be. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get decent tickets to the Dec 15 show waiting until October to buy tickets but that performance has TONS of tickets available in comparison to Aida and Boheme revivals. REALLY? Its a damn shame…

          • CruzSF

            I blame the underuse of Brownlee on the Gershwins.

          • MontyNostry

            Come on, Cruz, I’m sure he has his choice of offers for Otello (Verdi, of course) from all those insightful casting directors around the world.

          • I’ve said it before, but I think that with Florez’s star power and more attractive voice, Brownlee is destined to be Leyla Gencer of his time, always being second choice after Florez.

            I’m really glad that he got the HD telecast of Armida.

          • MontyNostry

            Well, I think Brownlee’s voice is far more attractive than Florez’s -- warmer, with more personality. Florez always sounds a bit hard and nasal to me.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            I agree with Kashania- I find Florez’s voice the more attractive between him and Brownlee. For me, Florez has one of the most beautiful voices of our age, in any Fach, and I love his phrasing too. Brownlee is consistently first rate, massively enjoyable and pretty much beyond reproach, but for me does not cross the line into the kind of singer I’d rave about to the proverbial grand children.

          • MontyNostry

            Fascinating how responses to voices and artists differ. Florez has always left me cold, though I think his phrasing has become more sensitive over the years. But ‘caressing’ and ‘honeyed’ are not words I would ever use to describe him.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            I’m not sure I’d read too much into ticket sales for Fille though either- given how much the slightly tiresome production of a pretty flimsy piece has been exposed between Vienna, London and New York with multiple revivals in at least the latter 2 locations, I guess that by this point it would take a truly international star or two along Florez/Dessay lines to really shift the tickets this far in advance. Whether or not he deserves to be, Brownlee isn’t that at the moment.

            It’s an enjoyable show but it really doesn’t stand up to repeated viewing, so I’d guess many subscribers will be giving it a miss this time around.

          • Florez’s voice has always got a mixed response. I find the voice quite beautiful and brilliant in tone. But others hear a goat-like quality to the voice that they can’t abide (I can see where they are coming from but I still love the voice). The basic quality of Brownlee’s voice isn’t as attractive to my ears. And I was a tad disappointed when I heard his Cenerentola Prince in person. Even though Toronto’s opera house is 2,000 seats and has wonderful acoustics, his voice didn’t make much of an impact, though the singing itself was first rate (and he brought the house down with his aria).

          • manou

            If I had to chose between Florez and Brownlee, I would pick John Osborn.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            I remember when Florez’s Rossini arias disc first came out, Andrew McGregor on BBC Radio3’s cd review programme was unenthusiastic, and did use a word like grating or wearing to describe the experience of listening to it. The following week, after it had been officially released, he was forced to enthuse about it at some considerable length because the powers that be had chosen it as disc of the week! I did feel sorry for him. I must say, I can understand that response to the voice too, but it isn’t how I hear it. I do think that on record he gets rather closely miked because it is a voice of such focus and no great size, and all you can really hear is his skull buzzing away. In the theatre, it softens slightly with the acoustic around it, and for me is truly magical.

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            Kashy count me in the camp who hears a “goat” like voice and who thinks that Florez is consistently sharp. As for Brownlee’s lack of heft, I have seen him once but in a relatively small venue so I was entranced. But we’ll see how he carries in Lincoln Center.

          • MontyNostry

            I first heard Florez in the theatre in Sonnambula in 2002 with Covent Garden’s then favourite soprano, Elena Kelessidi, and I remember finding him wearing. I saw him again last year in recital at the Festival Hall (poor acoustic, admittedly) and still couldn’t quite see what all the fuss was about, though he can certainly sing in tune and get all the notes. But I still find the tone and style charmless.

        • Krunoslav

          I am well aware of the Porgy trap for black singers, having discussed it with two major African American bass-baritones. However I see no evidence in your highhanded pronouncements or in history that opera companies would have cast African American performers in ANYTHING if PORGY had not existed. Well, maybe the occasional Amonasro-- that was what Robert McFerrin, a lyric baritone, was offered as a debut, and that is what Jonathan Friend offered Mark Rucker , who had been singing other Verdi roles for 15-20 years better than many of the third raters Friend had been hiring for multiple seasons.

          I am not trying to defend hiring policies that excluded A-A singers from white roles. Can you honestly imagine that Edward Johnson would have hired any of the PORGY cast for Donizetti or Gounod had PORGY never existed? Neither of the gentlemen with whom I spoke blamed the Gershwins for the situation-- they blamed rather the clueless administrators and racist board members. That hasn’t changed and is not solely a function of the US. German houses seemingly love to destroy young African-heritage lyric sopranos by casting them as Salome.

          For future denunciations of white liberals you might also do well to learn Colin “Power”‘s real last name.

        • brooklynpunk

          “Like the paternalitic white liberals who used to compliment Colin Power on “how well he speaks”

          Excuse me, ON..

          I know of NO Liberals- at least those worth their salt… who EVER PRAISED anything CONCERNING Colin Powell--( until VERY VERY recently…)…perhaps you’re confusing liberals with.. Powell’s CONSERVATIVE cronies..?(I know…WE ALL LOOK ALIKE…?!?..lol!)

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            BN, you may want to check out some of Joe Biden and Harry Reid’s choice comments about then candidate Obama. This isn’t a thread about the racial politics of Democrats or even liberals writ-large, but seriously, check them before you assume that the “speaks so well” thing is only for condescending conservatives.

          • brooklynpunk

            ON:

            …THEN AGAIN…I DON’T really consider either Biden or Reid to be REALLY liberal-, at ALL-( in the best sense of that mis-used word)--and so, the not so subtile racism of either “gents” comments doesn’t surprise me that much….

          • Camille

            Okay then, O.N.--still reflecting upon what you are saying here. One of my stumbling blocks is for me is ‘what is the classical definition of a minstrel show and what are the norms of its stereotypes”? I don’t actually know and therefore would have to take your word on it, which I would hope to be truly informed.

            I will have to study these terms a bit and then get back to you. It won’t hurt me to do so as I intend to see this production and should know a bit more. It would also be interesting to hear your thoughts on “Showboat”, a work I dearly love but which comes with its own set of baggage. I thank you for your lengthy and thoughtful reply.

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            Camille, the best resource I can recommend to you to read more about the relationship between the stock minstrel characters from the 19th century and black characters for most of the 20th century check out the first half of Donald Bogle’s wonderful book “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films” Though the book is about movies, I think you’ll quickly recognize in Porgy and Bess the themes he raise and that I’ve interpreted on this board.

          • Camille

            Thanks for the information, OpneophD.
            I would like to collect more information before I see Porgy, so this would help. If I work up enough courage to go to Chicago in March to see Show Boat, it will come in handy there as well. I will try to get to you on the performances.

            I really appreciate your effort to make people understand. I’ve spent a great deal of my life studying the culture and mores of European society and I think, before I die, I want to turn home to look at what I’ve overlooked. .
            Please don’t be discouraged or desist with your effort.

            I would like you to know about something which you may or may not: the annual Scott Joplin Festival in June, or else it was a few years ago. It takes place in Sedalia, Missouri, and don’t ask me how I know…that’s a whole ‘nother story!

          • grimoaldo

            Camille said:
            It would also be interesting to hear your thoughts on “Showboat”, a work I dearly love but which comes with its own set of baggage.
            __

            Well ON has not replied so far. I would also be interested in hearing his thoughts on “Showboat”, a work which I also dearly love. It is a true American masterpeice in my opinion and amazing in the way it confronts race, miscengenation and unhappy marriages/relationships.
            The opening lines, sung by the black chorus, are like a slap in the face:

            Niggers all work on the Mississippi
            Niggers all work while the white folks play.

            This sort of sums up the racial situation over a lot of US history but any use of the “n” word is now considered extremely offensive. When they made the 1988 recording with von Stade/Hadley/Stratas in London, they had a choir of black people from a local church signed up to do the black chorus (there is a chorus of black people and a chorus of white people), who came to the first rehearsal, saw the opening lines, refused to sing them, and walked out so all the choruses were done by white people on that recording, which seems a shame really.
            The makers of that recording were determined to keep to the original lines of the opening, which had been watered down in various revivials first to

            Coloured folk work on the Mississippi
            Coloured folk work while the white folk play

            and then to

            People all work on the Mississippi
            People all work while the white folk play

            which actually makes very little sense.

            I have read that the first night audience in 1927 did not applaud much during or at the end on Act One so that the cast and creators thought it was not going well, but actually they were stunned into silence. Can you imagine the impact those first lines must have had on the audience of a Broadway musical in 1927? Broadway musicals at that time were usually variants of the Cinderella story, shope girl marreies the boss’ son etc. I can understand why black people today find any use of the “n” word unacceptable but surely the lines “Niggers all work on the Mississppi/ Niggers all work while the white folks play” is not at all derogatory to black people, especially as it is to be sung by black people, but is a very strong, radical political statement.
            In the opening scene a black guy asks Queenie the black cook about some trinket “Where’d you get that, nigger?” She replies ” Who you calling nigger, nigger?” But here again it is black people using the term and it is hard for me to see how anyone could find “Show Boat” anything but compassionate to human suffering in every form including racism and unfairness due to skin colour.
            I mean the words of “Ol’Man River” are magnificent and surely many miles away from any minstrel show.
            The usual criticism of “Show Boat” is that Act Two, covering many years, is sort of a mess, but when I saw the joint English National Opera/ Royal Shakespeare Company production twenty years ago with Janice Kelly, recently Pat Nixon at the Met, I did not think so at all, in fact the whole thing seemed a MASTERPIECE, the great American epic piece of music theatre, and I LOATHE most musicals, I really HATE them. I don’t see how anyone could find it objectionable, but I stand to be corrected. One reason why I dislike musicals is because they are always miked. Of course in 1927 the premiere of Show Boat was not miked and it would be great to think that the LOC production won’t be either. I try to stay positive on this forum and not say nasty things but when I have seem P&G I have been bored, bored, bored, by the middle of Act One and it goes on forever. I like excerpts from it but as a whole for me it just doesn’t work -- too long. Show Boat however is great.
            Just my opinion!

          • Camille

            Grimoaldo!!! I Hear You! The Show Boat problem must somehow be resolved! It IS a masterpiece and I absolutely love it, too. Let’s hope OpNeo has some ideas on how to go about helping this great work to see a brighter future. We also have that recording from 1988, and I used to play it more frequently but since Hadley’s death, well, not so often.

            I agree with you about this magnificent work, one hundred per cent. I wish, for instance, NYCO had put it on, instead of all the other crap they’ve had that no one cares about.

            Anyway, I am almost decided now to brave the terrible weather in Chicago in February-March to go see it, as who knows if I shall ever get a chance again to see it produced on that level?

        • RDaggle

          ‘Porgy and Bess’ didn’t play at the Met until 1985.

          Of course the Met is not all American Opera. But the idea that P&B existed as some kind of segregated career path for African American classical singers is not plausible.

          Until the Houston Grand Opera presented its restored/researched version of the score in the mid-1970s, the work had almost no standing in the classical music world at all.
          (In fact at the time some people still argued about whether Gershwin’s symphonies should be played by symphony orchestras)

          • armerjacquino

            Amazingly, this quote is from 1983 not 1933:

            ‘Some of the Americans, for example, seemed to choose their pieces out of a sort of linguistic patriotism. Thomas Stewart and Evelyn Lear sang “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” beautifully and idiomatically, but it was the wrong idiom for the Met.’

        • Camille

          OpneophD:

          This surprises me a great deal. I’ve been thinking a lot of these same thoughts for a long, long time now, but assumed that, as an old white lady, I was drawing all the wrong conclusions for I was not in on all the pertinent facts of the matter.

          Why is it, indeed, that it’s acceptable for a white tenor (I’m thinking the very greatest Vickers) can don blackface, and it’s okay in that case?? No one bats an eye. Further, even if Leotyne did escape the Bess ghetto, she still was defined--probably because she was so ideal vocally--in the role of Aida, perhaps a more high-rent ghetto. What happened to many of her other attempts at other roles? I wouldn’t know as I wasn’t in NYC at that time but I know that others do know.

          As we have seen of late, everyone wants to sing (Anna/Erwin) Porgy and Bess, just because it’s such grateful music for the singer and such a wonderful kind of bridge between two genres of music. American opera singers, in particular, get to express themselves in their native language for once.

          The case of George Shirley, whom I heard about continuously as a girl but never actually HEARD sing until one year ago, via Sirius, is lamentable. I was fairly shocked at how good his Conte Almaviva was, remarkable for the fleetness of his passagework AND the fullness of voice. He was also a famous Tamino but I’ve yet to hear that one. And I do not know if he sang that well all the time but he did sing Barbiere very well. And speaking of his modern day heir, I must say that Brownlee surpassed Florez in the part of Tonio, in that substitution performance I heard more than a year ago, in live transmission. Much more voice and far more enjoyable. I do like Florez but there is just not enough “‘there’ THERE” for me, most of the time, and then comes the inevitable climactic high C’s, over and over and over. After a while it’s tiresome, but since he is awfully cute, I gratefully accept what eye candy I can get.

          Was there not a famous apocryphal story regarding, I believe, Leona Mitchell,making a “great Bess”, as per some old-time diva like Lucine Amara or Zinka or someone like that? Case in point. The only time I heard her was as a splendid Amelia in Ballo in Maschera, with that recent birthday boy, Luis Lima. Both of whom were wonderful and adorable.

          Thank you for authoritatively expressing this point of view. When I listen to someone play or sing, the colour I always listen to is that of their soul and the colours they are able to draw from inside and use the medium of their voice to express and that’s really IT for me. I really don’t care about anything else. And for god’s sakes, I am not a politically correct liberal. I just don’t care about the outside wrapper. One of the best judges of music I know is a blind musician who can tell you everything about someone from what that person sounds like.

          ps --Opneo — haven’t yet listened to Ewing but promise I will eventually. Also, your Thomas Young video didn’t post for some reason. Would like to hear him. Don’t know him at all.
          And most of all, continued good success in your new career.

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            Responding to both Camille and Krunoslav in this post

            Camille you raise an excellent point about the casual acceptance of blackface in Aida and Otello and our general shock and horror when confronted with blackface in American productions. I have two thoughts:

            1. Aida and Otello (despite the later’s faults) are classic figures within European literary tradition. Others on this board have given excellent explanations of the character-genealogies that Aida springs from (I’m unfamiliar) and I paid close enough attention in my English seminars in undergrad to remember that Otello is a classic tragic figure. Either way, we can say with surety that these characters are fundamentally noble and we are meant to identify with them when they make bad decisions for love (Aida) or pride/insecurity (Otello). There’s nothing demeaning about the characters themselves and so when folks portray them in blackface it doesn’t raise warning bells.

            2. Blackface Minstrelsy makes us uncomfortable, because its about white supremacy not entertainment. I’ve said this before here but it bears repeating. Whether played by blacks or whites the characters in Porgy and Bess are classic archetypes of the minstrel form which dates well back into the antebellum era. Minstrel shows were always about communicating to audiences that:
            -This is an authentic portrayal of black life
            -This confirms that enslavement/violence/discrimination etc. is acceptable against black people, just look at how they act.

            Otello and Aida are not characters that are part of a cultural arsenal of white supremacy. Though we do know that Verdi was a Italian nationalist and those politics do emerge in his work, Aida in particular from what I imagine. But as Americans we’re not familiar with that history or those cultural legacies. Even though most of us are ignorant of the facts of our history, that creeping unease, that discomfort, that affective dissonance which comes from watching blackface tells us everything we need to know about what those performances were (are) really about.

            And this is my issue with Porgy and Bess. In demanding that only black performers enact these minstrel stereotypes and while claiming it was an “authentic” version of black life, the Gershwins more effectively reproduced the cultural work of blackface minstrels than they could have ever imagined. Instead of a wink and a nod, here were actual black bodies doing the *exact same things* minstrel performers had done for years, with a much much much better soundtrack mind you.

            Krunoslav, no I don’t think that black singers would have been employed in other types of jobs without Porgy and Bess. But that is a ridiculous counterfactual question. We also could say perhaps African Americans in major cities would not have had to rely on trash collecting and janitorial jobs had we lived in a society that produced no trash. But we don’t and, more importantly, if we did not produce trash white supremacy would have dictated that black men take whatever else was considered the most demeaning job. The same is true for classical music. Had Porgy and Bess not existed no doubt some other work that did the same cultural work would have become the fallback for black singers. And the greatest proof of this is in the lack of popularity of a piece with wonderful tunes and a much more positive depiction of black life, Treemonisha. An opera who’s main character wasn’t a happy dust addict and didn’t sleep around and whose mission it was to educate her friends and family out of superstition and ignorance. The whole *point* of Treemonisha is to reject the idea that minstrel characters are all that black folks can be in an opera. I think we all know why such an opera never got off the ground and why an opera like Porgy and Bess did.

            Again, these things are not the “fault” of the Gershwins and I do wish people would stop clutching their pearls in defense of them. What is ridiculous is to act as if the Gershwins had some grand plans to keep black classical singers working in the same opera over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. Absurd and ahistorical.

          • armerjacquino

            Your criticism of PORGY AND BESS relies on the subjective statement that the characters are ‘minstrel stereotypes’, which you often refer to as if it were an established fact.

            I’d say that Bess, Porgy and Serena for starters are every bit as complex and nuanced as many operatic characters, and more so than many others.

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            AJ, you’re right in a way. The characters in Porgy and Bess are no less complex or nuanced than Nemorino or Adina. However, my argument isn’t that the characters are “simple” or lack “nuance” Bess definitely struggles with her addiction and one day (maybe with Audra) that struggle can be played with the gravity it deserves. My point is that Porgy and Bess became popular because it presented an image of black people to white audiences that was not radically different than what they had been used to seeing in minstrel shows. Film is also a helpful reference here, Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind for example or Louise Beavers in, well basically everything she was in, those characters are essentially Serena. At a certain point opera companies and audiences decided that these were the quaint bigotries of the past and the show has gone on.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            I’m interested in the way George Shirley is being represented on here. I know him from the Leinsdorf Cosi only, and if that isn’t representative then I apologise. But what I hear on there is a good voice and strong musical-dramatic instincts hampered by very physically tense delivery which restricts the amount of refulgence on the sound, the facility with which it is deployed, and the ability to really choose colours and nuances while he’s singing. I don’t know how big his career was, where he sang or how much he was restricted by racism or anything else, but I would venture that, within the (very narrow) frame of reference stated above, he didn’t sound like a singer ever destined to be first rate/top flight whatever the extra-musical circumstances.

      • phoenix

        Does the anti-blackface Porgy and Bess tradition demand that all residents of Catfish Row boast a standardized required skin shade? And who determines the required lightness or darkness of the stiupulated shade of skin? Perhaps I have misinterpreted something after all.
        — krunoslav, you may have found the tradition ‘disappetizing’ but the tradition (as you have noted) ‘died hard’. ‘The Gershwins’ strictures against blackface performances’ didn’t seem to hold much weight at the opera in the last century (perhaps as a direct cause of my weeping for the rich tax-avoiding victims of the unions’ ‘class warfare’?).
        — If they weren’t singing Aida or l’Africaine, I remember all the leading ladies of colour being ‘lightened up’ (reverse blackface?). Conversely, all of the fair skinned Aidas (up to and including the recent, rather subtlely dusted-up, Violeta Urmana) wore what you call blackface, to one degree or another.
        — I wonder how Ethel Barrymore, Marjorie Main and Estelle Winwood felt about the authenticity of their performances in Scarlet Sister Mary (this play, incidentally, was based on the 1929 Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name by Julia Peterkin), which was a serious topical drama and NOT a minstrel show.

        • Krunoslav

          P & B is indeed a problematic subject.

          ON makes some good points but the not very strong TREEMONISHA is hardly a stick to beat PORGY with. Two quotes:

          Hattie McDaniel: “I would rather be paid a well to play a domestic on film than work as a domestic.”

          Leontyne Price in a master class, speaking of “My man’s gone now”: “He really knew where all the bodies were buried.”

          With AJ--I don’t think it’s fair to PORGY- certianly as it ha sbene staged in the last 40 years-- is all about minstrelsy.

          This I find incoherent:”‘The Gershwins’ strictures against blackface performances’ didn’t seem to hold much weight at the opera in the last century”-- since when were George and Ira and tehir heirs in control of opera houses, and anything other than US rights for PORGY?

          According to the Barrymore bio I just read, nearly everyone considered Ethel’s blackface SCARLET SISTER MARY a grotesque embarassment.

          • phoenix

            krunoslav, I wrote ‘at the opera’ not [in control of] ‘opera houses’ …. I was referring to the general production style of opera in the 20th century; there is no implication that the Gershwins had any sort of ‘control of’ any ‘opera houses’, US or foreign.
            — As for Ethel Barrymore, she knew what she was getting into. Scarlet Sister Mary was a very popular novel. Barrymore had to have known of the book and at least read the script before she accepted the role. Although most of the critic’s blame was heaped upon Daniel Reed’s adaption (God forbid anyone should blame the almighty Barrymore), in truth the only real ‘grotesque embarassment’ was that the play flopped after 24 performances on Broadway. If it had been a great success …

  • OpinionatedNeophyte

    I never really believed those rumors. I know too many black women of a certain age who plan on going to see this and Audra McDonald IS a damn big draw.

  • operaassport

    I’d be shocked if it lasts a month.

    • Satisfied

      It will last at least through June so Audra can pick up her 30th Tony. (Sorry Jan Maxwell.)

      Having seen it, I think it’ll attract both highbrow theater regulars and non-theatergoers alike. The critical response will improve but will remain mixed. Good word of mouth will keep this production alive.

  • grimoaldo

    “…while [Audra] McDonald wins Tonys, her name doesn’t sell tickets.”
    was the quote from Michael Riedel, misinformed about P&G not coming to Braodway so perhaps he is misinformed about that too although he might have been speaking in reference to the very lukewarm review of this production from the NYT which went into raptures about Audra but panned almost everything else so maybe he meant “Audra is not such a big star that her name will sell out a show that didn’t get good reviews”.

  • forthesakeofargument

    Fantastic!! I was looking at it as a win-win either way. If it came I got to see Audra. If it didn’t come I got to revel in Paulus’s failure (since she is one of the most atrocious people I’ve ever known).

  • figaroindy

    All I read in the article is that there’s nothing afoot with the “estate” to scuttle a transfer….first the show would have to sell well in Boston, and the producers would have to feel it would sell well in NYC. The NYC reviews of the Boston production were somewhat mixed…the transfer isn’t certain yet, is it?

    • RDaggle

      The Boston performances are supposedly all sold out. The marquee is up at the theater on Broadway, and tickets for the NY run are on sale already via the usual services. So it looks more than highly likely.

      But who knows? Hurricane season isn’t over with yet …

  • zinka

    FOOOOOEY!..I hear they made it a “happy ending”..It is SACRED!!!! The noive…and Audsra attacks notes with no vibrato…….They should let it alone……

  • Byrnham Woode

    The ending has NOT been changed. Whatever speculation there was about doing so must have led to a decision to leave things as they are in the text while the show was still in rehearsal.

    I live in Boston and enjoyed the show immensly last weekend.