Cher Public

  • manou: In fatti – even… 10:03 AM
  • Krunoslav: In fatto: come la Principessa Pignatelli. 9:58 AM
  • Christopher Corwin: While it’s possible that a recording exists of the Amderson-Troyanos Giulio Cesare, in-house recordings from DC have... 9:54 AM
  • grimoaldo: Yes, I knew Anderson had done Cleopatra then but was not aware of the concert with Troyanos. 9:16 AM
  • Krunoslav: Agreed. With Anderson– as apparently with Emma Eames’ Aida– the Nile froze over. Rolandi was lovely in the... 9:07 AM
  • aulus agerius: I liked the Met performance of 3 years ago with Goerke as the Dyer’s Wife and Schwanehilms and Kerl and Reuter,... 8:41 AM
  • redbear: Splendid story. Thanks! 8:33 AM
  • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin: Cornell MacNeil was the Germont at Moffo’s 1959 Met debut. Merrill followed shortly thereafter. 6:30 AM

“Then, with financial assistance provided by the United Negro College Fund, Bess got a degree in medical transcription…”

“Instead of Bess’s leaving their Charleston ghetto for New York by herself, with the crippled Porgy giving chase some time later, the Broadway version would include a newly invented scene in which Bess tries to persuade Porgy to start a new life with her up North. She leaves, followed by Porgy; one final stage picture that was considered had the two looking at each other at a distance. The intent was to indicate that Porgy and Bess would be reunited.” [New York Times]


  • 21
    ianw2 says:

    That a powerful sexual woman has to be destroyed is why I boycott Lulu.

    In my new production of Berg’s masterpiece (opening in Topeka, Fall 2017), in the final scene Lulu kills her patriarchal tormentors and moves to Santa Fe with the Countess, where they open a women’s shelter and a small mail-order business specializing in turquoise and pressed silver jewellery. Sher directs.

    • 21.1
      Camille says:

      Say, ianw, it would interest me to hear your staging of Carmen, while your in this vein.

      Better watch out for the Santa Fe gals, though, I wouldn’t want to mess with them. They are silver plated pistol-packin’ mamas.

      • 21.1.1
        ianw2 says:

        Well, Carmen is coming to Flint at some point in 2020. I’m still nutting out the details, but its likely that all bullfighting references will be removed as I refuse to be involved in such a barbaric practice, emotional investment or not.

        Sher directs.

          Camille says:

          Okay, ianw, but I will miss the bull. Cannot we work them in as phallic, somehow, somewhere, someday?

          By Flint, you mean Michigan, or nay?

          • Bluessweet says:


            As long as you read Parterre, you will NEVER miss the bull!

          • Camille says:

            I’ve read parterre since December 1995 and not ONCE have I missed the bull!!!

          • Camille says:

            Oh no, I am mistaken. December 1994 was my first print copy and October 1995 was the first online.

            Hey, not to be a flaming liberal but the Wall Streeters just got the court to let them back in the Park.

          oedipe says:

          Sorry to be pushy and insistent, but I believe my (and the great Jean Yanne’s) proposition for staging Carmen is THE best: it not only corrects some of the deficiencies of the original, but also offers a more constructive and optimistic ending:

          Just imagine the wealth of possibilities this ‘regie’ approach would offer for staging popular-but-flawed operas! We wouldn’t even need all those worthless singers of today any more, though we get to keep the ‘tunes’!

    • 21.2
      DonCarloFanatic says:

      I boycott Lulu because she’s not powerful at all.

      As for Carmen, it’s the most relevant opera today and scarily so, since stalking became a national pastime.

      • 21.2.1
        Belfagor says:

        Tee hee! I taught an opera course to a crowd of teenagers 5-6 years ago, and their reaction to Carmen was that they were incredulous anyone would show them something where there was both smoking and bull-fighting, and they assumed I was trying to provoke and annoy them deliberately!!

    • 21.3
      m. croche says:

      Nice try, but sometimes reality trumps even the most fertile imagination:

      • 21.3.1
        m. croche says:

        I may have been a bit too subtle with the video. This is the version of Chaikovsky’s 1812 Overture used in the 50s in the Soviet Union. Chaikovsky’s final brass chorus of “God Save the Tsar” at 2:32 has been musically airbrushed out and replaced by a more ideological neutral passage from Glinka’s Ivan Susanin/A Life for the Tsar.

        This is why I call you guys amateurs! Leave it to the Soviets to iron out political difficulties by actually altering the score.

        For comparison:

      • 21.3.2
        DonCarloFanatic says:

        Awful. I must forward this to all my tsarist friends.

      • 21.3.3
        brooklynpunk says:


        thank ypu SO MUCH for that…I always wondered how the Soviets managed to get around this ” sticky” issue of Czarist anthmns popping up in 19th Century music…Did they use the same trick for :Marche Slav”, I wonder…?

          Liana says:

          Yeah, there were also many problems with not “communistly correct” literature. It’s well illustrated by an old joke. Our national epic, “Pan Tadeusz” by Mickiewicz, begins with the words “Lithuania, my homeland!” because it is were the poet was born, and he considered both countries to be one, since in 19th century they have been united for 400 years.But of course not under communism. So: Brezhnev calls General Jaruzelski and says: Wojciech, I read here a book which seems to be allowed over there in Poland. It starts with “Lithuania, my homeland”! It’s scandalous! Why is it read at all? Why isnt this fragment cut out, at least?????? Jaruzelski answers, trying to calm him: But Leonid, the author has been long dead… Brezhnev: And it’s why I appreciate you so much, General!!!! You act quickly and efficiently!

          • m. croche says:

            Liano! Ty jestes jak zdrowie!

            I had never heard that one. I shall copy it into my common-place book!

  • 22
    Clita del Toro says:

    ON writes:
    “People have an emotional investment in the version of operas they encountered in their youth and are really hard pressed to think about what may have been fucked up about both the work and the social dynamics of the time they were first experienced. Fine. ”

    Well some people do, others don’t. I am one who looks forward to “fucked up works.” I am totally tired of many, many, too many operas and their boring productions-- the same old shit-- after 57 years of opera going.
    I want more productions like the Bayreuth Lohengrin and the recent FroSch with Schwanewilms. I can’t wait the see the what’s his name’s Parsifal.

    My only quibble is with the singers of today,who are becoming prettier or hunkier, but blander and with less individuality. I wish the met would fuck up more productions!

  • 23

    I saw the Production in Boston. Don’t let this kerfluffle stop you from going. The production was riveting from beginning to end. Audra was perfection as Bess. Norm Lewis was not fr behind as Porgy. Their 2 duets were as good as it gets in theater. I predict Tony’s for the 2 of them.

  • 24
    Nero Wolfe says:

    I already have my ticket for the end of January. I pretty much go see Audra no matter what she is in if I am in town. Thank God she is out of hollywood where she wasted several years on that crappy tv show. I hope she made enough money to insure she never goes back there. Singers only have so many prime years and she is 41 now. I hope she makes the next decade count.

  • 25
    Bluessweet says:

    You may as well leave the Gershwins out it as far as what P and B is and what it represents. Try this Wiki article for another perspective.

    • 25.1
      armerjacquino says:

      Which contains a very interesting quote from no lesser a Harlem Renaissance figure than Langston Hughes.

    • 25.2
      OpinionatedNeophyte says:

      Fair enough, Porgy and Bess’ racial project remains what it is regardless of who authored the libretto. I’m not sure what Langston Hughes endorsement of the work is supposed to signify other than he and I disagree.

      • 25.2.1
        armerjacquino says:

        But we need a convoluted, patronising, quasi-Freudian reason for WHY he disagrees with you! We’ve had one for everyone else.

      • 25.2.2
        Bluessweet says:

        Langston Hughes endorsement means that one thinking African-American finds nothing particularly wrong with and, indeed, much right about something that N.O., another African American, has been denigrating on the most violent of terms. Certainly the African American experience has been fraught with tragedy—anyone care to celebrate the Dred Scott decision? How about the story of Margaret Garner, a recent opera based on a true story???

        On the other hand, all you have to do is translate P and B into a modern urban ghetto story with Sportin’ Life cast as a break dancer and rapper and the happy dust into crack and we have a picture of a segment of society that’s still going strong. Accent may not even need updating but foul language will have to be expanded, along with the presence of gangs and guns.

        It’s nice to have a PhD but that is not the only true picture of black experience, modern or antique.

        Washington and Street were two black Philly mayors and Nutter is another but the first two were intellectually by no means like the last one. Different stokes for different folks.

      • 25.2.3
        M says:

        ON, I appreciate your good intentions, and your premises have provoked interesting rebuttals. But--in all the back and forth—what I haven’t read from you is any historically informed appreciation for the amply documented good intentions of the Heyward/Gershwin team. You invoke the ‘”racial project” of Porgy and Bess as if the work of the authors —let alone the contractual protections they out in place around the work, so that white actors in blackface had no purchase on it--meant to reinforce, not correct, the infinitely-stronger racial prejudices at work in 1935. From where do you divine this notion of authorial intent? Sure, the liberalism of P&B may seem inadequate to the realities of 2011, the 3rd year of the first African-American’s term as POTUS. But whom can this surprise? Of course, P&B, in 2011, stiill seems like a ’30s piece. How do you make the leap from this unsurprising evaluation to the judgment that Heyward and Gershwin MEANT to turn the clock back?

          OpinionatedNeophyte says:

          M, thanks for your well considered question. In assessing the “good intentions” being Porgy and Bess we enter even murkier waters. But let me try and tease out the distinction between the Porgy and Bess teams’ intentions and the works racial project.

          Let me clarify what I mean by a “racial project.” My claim is not that the Gershwins et al attempted to program a piece of white supremacist propaganda in the form of a folk opera. Just as the producers of 24 probably didn’t imagine themselves as part of the Bush Administration’s War on Terror propaganda or the people behind Leave it To Beaver imagined themselves as promoting an idyllic heteronormativity that would bolster diverse criticisms of LGBT individuals and families.

          What all three works have in common, however, is that they uphold or codify systems of knowledge about a stigmatized other that justify political and economic systems that perpetuate inequality between majority and minority groups. Lets walk through one example that Parterrians might more easily identity with. Leave It To Beaver is engaged in a heteronormative project. The show’s presentation of a nuclear, two parent, multiple children household as an ideal social body shapes what viewers understand as normal. When people who have been steeped in images of Beaver encounter homosexuality they are confronted with a barrier between their expectations of normalcy and the queer people whose lives do not conform to those standards. And sadly, when sexual minorities have organized to increase our rights within the political system, conservative reactionaries reach for a time when life was “simple.” They yearn for Leave it to Beaver, “wholesome entertainment” and “apple pie.” Leave It To Beaver, then, becomes an embodiment and encapsulation of a set of cultural values that organize political opposition to LGBT rights.

          Similar dynamics, whether intentional or not, are at play within the racial projects of pieces like Porgy and Bess. To be sure, in comparison to ubiquitous blackface minstrelsy, the popularity of Amos n Andy, the disgusting images within many Looney Tunes cartoons and this, that, and the third, Porgy and Bess was framed as a positive assessment of Black life for its time. However the work’s emphasis on criminality, the uncontrollable passions and violence of Black people, the ubiquity of drug addiction and the simplistic religiosity of Catfish Row residents all served to codify assumptions that most “real” Black people were like the denizens of Catfish Row. In the 1930s the obsession with the “folk” or “authentic” was a direct response to the ways urbanization was challenging a host of social norms. Including the ways urbanization was challenging ideas that “the Negro” had no art, had no literature, had no original music, had no civilization and so on and so forth. These assumptions around Black people’s lack of civilization were among the chief justification for Jim Crow (which existed in the North and South) and other forms of political and state based discrimination. In short, cultural knowledges and assumptions directly influenced the political system.

          In that milieu whether or not Porgy and Bess “intentionally” worked to revive the idea that Catfish Row, rather than Alain Locke, Langston Hughes (whatever his thoughts on the issue), represented “real” blackness was directly implicated in questions of Black people’s relationship to modernity and civilization. And, unfortunately, Porgy and Bess positions black folks as hopelessly pre-modern in a variety of ways. Was the “intention” to stigmatize black people? I don’t know, it sort of doesn’t matter. It is, in fact, an impossible question to answer because even the discourse and language around stigmatization was significantly different.

          What it is possible to do is place the existence of Porgy and Bess within its proper historical, social and political context to see the *work* that Porgy and Bess did in terms of producing racial knowledge at this point in history. Its role as a producer of racial knowledge is what I mean by its “racialist project.” And in rejecting Porgy and Bess I reject the original premise behind the work, that it would represent an “authentic” “glimpse” into Negro life.

          • ianw2 says:

            The show’s presentation of a nuclear, two parent, multiple children household as an ideal social body shapes what viewers understand as normal

            But in 1962-1963 when Beaver was on, that was normal. The show itself cannot be held responsible for how its audience take and interpret almost fifty years later when it had no way of predicting the change in attitudes and context.

            I still find you’re projecting an unreasonable demand on P&B as a work of art that perhaps you don’t apply to other operas, because of the race element (which, certainly, P&B has a fairly unique problem on the fringe of the rep).

            Traviata and Butterfly both, to 2011 audiences, treat their lead women abhorrently. Butterfly is, in 2011, basically one big sex crime (to say nothing of the Bonze…). Yet somehow, somehow!, audiences can dissociate the historical context from contemporary enjoyment and make those two operas the most performed in the rep.

            I don’t think its unreasonable to understand that audiences can separate 1935 attitudes from 2011 attitudes (as another commentator said, they don’t leave their contemporary consciousness outside the opera house), and that to accuse those audiences of indulging in a bit of nostalgia for the good ol’ days is ever so vaguely offensive.

            I doubt that anyone in 2011 USA would attend a production of P&B and think they were seeing an authentic, documentarian slice of ‘Negro’ life in South Carolina. To dismiss a work for being inauthentic in its depictions of race- regardless of the context- seems silly and counter-productive.

            And if someone out there does harbour nostalgia for the race relations of 1935 and enjoys P&B for that reason, there’s not much an opera company can do about that (and if they could- to paraphrase LaC earlier- should they not confront that anyway?).

            For what it’s worth, the brilliant songwriting aside, I don’t have any great affection for P&B.

          • lorenzo.venezia says:

            ianw2: Beaver debuted in 1957, and even then, the world was emphatically NOT like that; Cleaver world reflected no existing norm. it never did and it never will. it was a projection, a fantasy, pushed by a powerful new medium that discovered it could create mythology on the fly. Lucy and Desi slept in separate beds for god’s sake (and she still managed to get pregnant!) as did the Cleavers and Ozzie and Harriet. Did your parents or grandparents have twin beds? Did anyone think that was normal? Do you think that reflects any “normal”? any “real”?
            ON: “And in rejecting Porgy and Bess I reject the original premise behind the work, that it would represent an “authentic” “glimpse” into Negro life.” You said it all in those two sentences.

          • Camille says:

            ON, dear —

            It’s late now. It’s probably best you keep Eddie Haskell out of it. He always was a troublemaker.

            Love, Camille.

            ps — I haven’t forgotten about the book you recommended to me, Donald Bogle’s “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films” —
            I’m getting it from the library.

            Good night, dear

          • ianw2 says:

            Lorenzo, the point I was making that the nuclear family (working dad, housewife mom, dog and two kids) was considered the norm at the time, to then claim it was used against gay families forty years later seems terribly unfair on a show that, when it was written and made, would have found a two-dad household simply beyond the realm of possibility.

            The same argument may be made in 2050 when cultural commentators note that the lack of human-real doll relationships presented in 2011 television set the whole movement back twenty years.

            Its unfair to expect creators of product- be it an opera or a television show- to somehow see in the future and predict how attitudes will change over the coming decades. The Gershwins believed they were acting in good faith at the time and it is unfair to project our 2011 attitudes, and knowledge of everything that has happened since, on to them when they can’t really answer back.

            Gone with the Wind has popped up a few times- a lot of readers manage to both think “wow that is unacceptable nowadays” at the same time as “but this is still a masterpiece”. I don’t see why P&B should be any different.

          • Talk of the Town says:

            ON, I apologize if I’ve mischaracterized your argument. However, your clarification appears consistent to me:

            any production of Porgy and Bess should address the issues I have been going on (and on) about.

            I think you and I agree that we all have a responsibility to address the issues you have raised. We simply disagree on the method used.

            Whereas I would prefer to experience a historical work as its author intended, and then think and talk about those intentions, as well as unintended consequences, you would prefer that the production itself “address the issues”.

            I agree that it’s impossible to come to any work without a racial lens (and a number of others). But to suggest that one can’t attempt to identify and question one’s preconceptions--e.g. through discussion with those whose “lenses” differ--and thus mitigate their effects, is to give up on any possibility of positive change.

            I certainly didn’t mean to imply that I think all audience members automatically approach a work with a critical eye for unexamined racial or gender stereotypes. But I think well thought-out program notes, pre-or post-performance lectures, etc. would go a long way towards encouraging reflection by audience members, as would, for example, pairing P&B in a season with a contemporary work that addresses issues of racism head-on.

            You say that you want performances of the work to “confront” the issues it raises, so I expect you don’t simply want to “fix” a flawed work.

            Could you give some examples of how a production of P&B ought to address the issues you’ve raised? Your original post was in support of any attempt to create fully realized characters.

            I’m just having some difficulty envisaging how fully-realized characters address the the issues. Perhaps the problem is that you have raised so many “issues”.

            For example, adding a backstory and a non-stereotypical ending could perhaps address the issue “I only ever see caricatures of black people on stage.”

            But at the same time, it would OBSCURE the issues “this was composed by a white man who sought to encapsulate black life” and “Gershwin’s (stated) intention was to “help” African-Americans by composing this opera--has he succeeded?”

            In fact, it might fail in addressing the first issue as well, by suggesting to audiences that the in-depth characterization was original to Gerswhin.

            La Cieca has suggested a Regie approach--text and music remain unchanged but the action on stage explicitly draws the audience’s attention to the issue (or, if it’s a good director, issues) identified. But to support that, you’d have to agree that the music is more nuanced than the libretto. Do you? What do you think about the music?

            Please do share your thoughts on how a production of P&B could address the issues you’ve identified in a way that would make attendance worth your while. You have obviously considered the problem in depth so I would appreciate hearing your ideas.

            Finally, your suggestion that the work could be performed with changes suggests you think there is something worth saving. What, for you, is that something?

          • Indiana Loiterer III says:

            Just as the producers of 24 probably didn’t imagine themselves as part of the Bush Administration’s War on Terror propaganda…

            Actually, the producers of 24 rather gloried in being part of the Bush Administration’s War on Terror propaganda:


          • manou says:

            IndLo -- thanks for this very interesting article.

            Of course for a femme pas sérieuse like myself the highlights were “soul patch”, as seen on La Cieca in her various incarnations, and “Manny Coto, a “24” writer…”, who one imagines has seen Bohème too many times (or likes baked pasta).

          • OpinionatedNeophyte says:

            Lorenzo, the point I was making that the nuclear family (working dad, housewife mom, dog and two kids) was considered the norm at the time, to then claim it was used against gay families forty years later seems terribly unfair on a show that, when it was written and made, would have found a two-dad household simply beyond the realm of possibility.

            Quite wrong I’m afraid (and perhaps CruzSF should not read this part as I’m about to display knowledge I learned from books about the 1950 when taking my preliminary exams years ago and I did not live through the era). But the federal government was freaked the fuck out about homosexuality and the dissolution of the nuclear family in the late 1940s and 1950s. All of this has to do with the Cold War and two excellent books that can help you to better frame the era are: David Johnson’s [i]The Lavender Scare[/i] and Joanne Meyerowitz’ wonderful edited collection [i]Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America 1945–1960.[/i] It is precisely why they instituted such strict codes for TV content, the whole idea was to promote Beaver-like shows for the promotion of heteronormativity.

            Initially I was willing to lay out the way these works enact cultural projects without having to make the case for intentionality on the part of their creators. Doing so seemed to diffuse heightened emotions around bismirching the reputations of “The Gershwins”

            But if we really closely examine the pressures of politics (i.e. government regulations/war policy) and capitalism (i.e., will my folk-opera have an audience if it doesn’t appeal to certain stereotypes) then it becomes harder to let the creators of these cultural products entirely off the hook. The Porgy and Bess team were as much concerned with profit and entertainment as they were about being “sympathetic” (oh, how I *hate* that word) in their portrayals. Concerns over profitability are probably where their intentions and white supremacist cultural trends writ-large came into conflict.

            What’s interesting is that I think most opera fans are willing to really engage the way market pressures and state regulation determined the direction/content of opera….except for in the case of Porgy and Bess. Or, more perniciously, some have swallowed the line that it is a “sympathetic work.”

            Finally, your suggestion that the work could be performed with changes suggests you think there is something worth saving. What, for you, is that something?

            Talk, since you’ve followed the thread closely you know I’m a great fan of the music. I was willing to attend this version of Porgy and Bess because it purported to be an intervention into/against the works’ racial project (though all involved skirted around directly saying that, perhaps fearing this very conversation). And I’m not willing to attend a version that reproduces the show “as is.” But I’m willing to go to any and all reinterpretations of the work, those that change dialogue, those that change storyline, those that regie-it-up, maybe an all white cast as was suggested.

            But you know what I’d really like, I’d like to see a version of Porgy and Bess in burnt cork black face. Sort of like that Anna Moffo Italian version (and if any version of the work reveals Porgy and Bess’ racial project *that* one does). Full burnt cork blackface would, I believe, reveal what’s really going on with this work.

            I certainly didn’t mean to imply that I think all audience members automatically approach a work with a critical eye for unexamined racial or gender stereotypes. But I think well thought-out program notes, pre-or post-performance lectures, etc. would go a long way towards encouraging reflection by audience members, as would, for example, pairing P&B in a season with a contemporary work that addresses issues of racism head-on.

            Sounds like a season I’d subscribe to.

            For example, adding a backstory and a non-stereotypical ending could perhaps address the issue “I only ever see caricatures of black people on stage.”

            But at the same time, it would OBSCURE the issues “this was composed by a white man who sought to encapsulate black life” and “Gershwin’s (stated) intention was to “help” African-Americans by composing this opera–has he succeeded?”

            In fact, it might fail in addressing the first issue as well, by suggesting to audiences that the in-depth characterization was original to Gerswhin.

            Persuasive reasons why this production had as many pitfalls as insights. I’m just pissed off that they didn’t even get a chance to try it on Broadway and that, instead, we’re stuck with the show “as is.” I also think you’re setting up a false choice. This production may have intervened by adding dialogue and characterization, another might take on my burnt cork idea, a third might completely remake the setting and action entirely as La Cieca has suggested. Porgy and Bess doesn’t need to be rethought in one way, we don’t need to replace one racial project with another. But I, as I said earlier, will not attend another production of Porgy and Bess “as is” anywhere. And I find defenses of the work “as is” problematic.

            Lorenzo and LT thanks for the support on this thread.

          • luvtennis says:

            Actually, Ianwa inadvertently supports ON’s initial thesis -- that the “representation” of Black Life in P&B is a potentially dangerous distortion of reality. Less of a problem in our post-Cosby world perhaps, but can anyone here deny that for many voters in this country the black/hispanic “reality” is one of drugs, welfare, hip-hop and Oprah. (They may know any number of contrary realities as a result of friendships, work relationships, etc., but humans are monkeys. Wave something shiny in front of us for long enough and we can be distracted from just about anything.) If not, come down to Houston. I can introduce you to a whole bunch of them. Many of them think they are my friends….

            And make no mistake, this is deadly serious in a country as polarized as ours. False representations that can be marketed to play on voter prejudices can be lethal in a large complex democracy. False images of America might be dismissed as harmless TV fodder (like the idealized families of the 50’s and 60’s) until some clever politico uses them to sell millions of voters an image of an America that NEVER existed. Fantasy becomes false history, false history becomes real for lack of a compelling alternative narrative. Real false history provides the impetus for political movements.

            So where does that leave P&B -- hard to say. As I noted, even best intentions can go terribly awry in a post-lapsarian world.

          • ianw2 says:

            but can anyone here deny that for many voters in this country the black/hispanic “reality” is one of drugs, welfare, hip-hop and Oprah

            Which, in turn, suggests that opera companies should program to the lowest common denominator in case anyone interprets P&B as a confirmation of their own prejudices.

            In these early days of DADT recall, can we really risk a production of Billy Budd?

            Luvtennis and OpNeo, I think you are both seriously underestimating opera audiences. I really doubt even the most rabid “hanging’s too good for single welfare queen teen mothers” type would walk into P&B and think they were seeing an accurate representation of contemporary black life.

            “Audiences are too stupid to understand that an opera from 1935 may not be an accurate depiction of black life, then or now. To the barricades!”

  • 26
    Bluessweet says:

    out OF it

  • 27
    Donna Anna says:

  • 28
    La Cieca says:

    A proposal for a new take on Porgy and Bess:

    Suppose the physical ghetto of Catfish Row were understood as a metaphor for the artistic ghetto African-American opera singers (and other performers) found themselves limited to as a result of the popularity of Porgy and Bess.

    I propose that the story of Porgy and Bess (which, let’s face it, is very thin anyway given the length of the piece and the ambition of the music) could be overlaid with an ironic (and, finally, tragic) commentary on this “Porgy ghetto.”

    Suppose, then, the curtain goes up on a show curtain (scrim) depicting a poster for a 1950s revival of the show, with lurid “primitive” art in something like this style:

    As the “Jazzbo Brown Blues” section of the introduction begins, the scrim flies out and we see that this piece is being played on an upright piano on a Broadway stage where performers are being auditioned for a revival of Porgy and Bess. The performers, of course, are all black, and the production people are all white. A soprano, neatly dressed in a suit, hat and high heels, comes forward to audition with “Summertime.” She sings the first verse of the song very straight, using “European” vocal attack and body language. During the brief interlude between the verses, a stage manager whispers to her, she nods, and her attitude changes: she sings the second verse using stereotyped “black” gestures and vocal inflections.

    The “singer” is cast as Clara, and the production team start a makeover on her: she removes her high heels, takes off her stockings and hat, and eventually is transformed into the traditional “Gullah” stereotype with head rag and full flounced skirt a la Diahann Carroll in the Porgy film:

    This sets the tone for the rest of the performance. Each performer is playing a dual role, the “actor” (each with a different background, level of sophistication, etc.) and the “character,” which generally is in dissonance with the “actor” playing the role.

    For example, I think it would be interesting to play Bess as a Leontyne Price type doing her take on the character of Bess, a rather staid diva who has to be persuaded slowly into accepting the convention of the slinky red dress. Similarly, the Porgy could begin as an able-bodied bass-baritone who has to be forced to his knees to ride a comic goat-cart and even persuaded to put on obvious blackface makeup. The end of the first scene, when Bess is trapped and Porgy is the only one in the community to take her in, could be staged with a copy of the set of the original production invading the stage, closing off any exit to the Bess. Trapped, she has no choice but to go with Porgy, i.e., Porgy.

    Obviously there’s a long way to go from here and it would be a challenge to maintain the two levels of story. What I do think would be interesting for the end of the show would be for Bess to make her final exit, not high on happy dust, but ecstatic with the prospect of a mainstream career: again, something like Leontyne Price in the late 1950s, and, again, not dressed as some white director’s idea of a black harlot, but as a dignfied and magnificent artist sweeping out of the ghetto of Catfish Row for the last time.

    And then, Porgy is left in the last scene to wipe off his blackface, kick away his goat cart and prepare to join Bess in the “heavenly land” of the mainstream. But he is not allowed to escape: on the final measures of the opera, that show curtain with the stereotyped caricatures descends, trapping him.

    This is not meant to be completely thought out concept, but I do think it’s an idea for a “conversation” with Porgy that could present the text as written. I think this kind of production is a more appropriate response to this work than a purely straight staging or (worse) a rewritten PC version of the show a la Paulus.

    • 28.1
      lorenzo.venezia says:

      You’re hired.

    • 28.2
      kashania says:

      Wow, fascinating!

    • 28.3
      Camille says:

      Thank you, La Cieca. I am hoping that OpNeoPhD will give this his due consideration.

      Now then, would you kindly please re-work he Zimmerman La Sonnambula while you are at it and the creative voices are calling you? If you have time, I would like to hear your take on it. Yours truly, Camille.

      • 28.3.1
        perfidia says:

        Have they ever done Sonnambula as a Freudian nightmare? Ther was an interesting Opera News article about the nineteenth century fascination with dreams at the time of the Dessay-Zimmerman debacle. Oh, and I love La Cieca’s take on Porgy and Bess. It is kind of “Follies” meets Gershwin. It would make a great movie.

    • 28.4
      luvtennis says:



    • 28.5
      OpinionatedNeophyte says:

      La Cieca, Your description of this possible staging is both enlightening and moving. It is absolutely a Porgy and Bess that I would attend (calling Takesha Mose Kizart!). I particularly like your move to eliminate moralism and pity as the source of the audience’s sympathy with Porgy and Bess. Bess isn’t really sympathetic, as much as she is an object of pity because she just can’t help herself with that happy dust and aren’t we all the better for sympathizing with the wretched creature.

      And yet, your production also prevents us from seeing the main characters as pure victims, their desire for a career (rather than the degradation of being Negro) compels the emotionally devastating choices to perform these characters for an audience which demands them. Truly wonderful.

      Indeed, the most powerful scene may be the one where the white policemen show up to accuse/humiliate anyone and we see the entire community bow and scrape. A provocative way to stage that moment may be to have the actors playing the white police officers slip into their characters with ease or without obvious compromise. Perhaps a more conciliatory reading would have them be just as conflicted as the black actors.

      Or, interestingly (if less feasible) might be to signal that the actors playing the white policemen are black performers “passing” as white and then one could play around with how to present their complicity in participating in the scene. Seriously though, this made me smile and meant a lot.

    • 28.6
      Jack Jikes says:

      Wonderful concept -- bears an affinity with Christof Loy’s remarkable Frosch at Salzburg this past summer.

      • 28.6.1
        Maury D says:

        God I am dying for this FrOSch to come out on DVD. I should check Berkshire, I guess. I just watched a little clip of it on youtube. It’s riveting.

    • 28.7
      M says:

      Or…someone could COMPOSE that opera. (see “Meet Vera Stark.

  • 29
    brooklynpunk says:

    I just came across this PBS clip, which i thought nicely and compactly summarized the various arguments that have been discussed here…(without dragging “Beaver” into the mix……lol!!!)

    • 29.1
      OpinionatedNeophyte says:

      LOL what IS it about Beaver BP? Well…I think I answered my own question.

      • 29.1.1
        brooklynpunk says:

        …only that the “Beaver” analogy you made, earlier, was either a little too …academic..?… or … ( a little) far-fetched?-, fer me, O/N

        My only connection with that ‘ol TV show, was that it made it clear to me what my own sexual leanings were… as a child of the late’50’s,, even then, I found Wally and Eddie Haskell real turn-ons…LOL LOL ..(NOT “The Beav,” though…lol!

  • 30
    arepo says:

    I find myself asking what August Wilson would be saying about all of this were he still alive.
    I had interviewed him years ago for my thesis on his plays. He granted me a phone conversation at length.
    The easiest way to describe his feelings and beliefs would be to picture him as an Orthodox Jew.
    Viewing Blacks, his was clearly a conservative approach.
    At one point I asked him what he thought of the Bill Cosby Show. He was aggressively annoyed. He felt that the show did not depict Blacks as they truly were. The show was (in my words) a watered down approach of how Blacks should act today — college oriented, speaking language free of ethnic jive, middle class home with interior designs not particularly pertinent to the average Black home today.
    He claimed the show didn’t come close to depicting what Black life was really all about.
    I saw his point. Even better, his plays clearly reflect his point.
    When it comes to P & B, I have the feeling he would be siding very closely with the feelings of Stephen Sondheim.

    • 30.1
      brooklynpunk says:


      with all due respects…what could you possibly mean by the “orthodox jew ” comparison?

      …did he quote the Talmud?

      …was he homophobic?

      …did his wife wear a ritual wig?

      …does he not mix milk and meat, or not eat pork and shellfish?

      …… inquiring minds want to know what this puzzling statement REALLY means…!!

    • 30.2
      kennedet says:

      Let me preface my comments by stating that August Wilson is one of the greatest playwrights in theatre (black or white) but I am in total disagreement with some of his views regarding color blind casting. He was vehemently against it. Also, John Simon, the past and very famous and erudite reviewer of the New York Magazine.

      Therefore he and John Simon would be against African-Americans performing in any productions except plays or operas written expressively for blacks. This is ludicrous and I expressed this in a New Yorker article on August Wilson years ago and also cancelled my subscription to the New York Magazine after reading John Simon’s prejudicial views on color blind casting.

  • 31
    arepo says:

    Oh my!
    I was trying to say that not unlike an Orthodox Jew who takes the most devout and ritualistic of the religion to its heart, so does Wilson have the same kind of feeling about his belief of the origin of the Black credo. A pride of what the Black person was back then — not shame like some indicate it to be.

    If you don’t understand what I am saying and you feel you need to challenge it further, I will have failed to make you understand what I meant and we shall simply have to drop it right there. It won’t get any clearer.
    Hope this does it.

    • 31.1
      brooklynpunk says:


      Sorry if i mis-understood..or ruffled ypur feathers..but, you MUST ADMIT that was an odd analogy to print, without any explanation , at first- AND- as a feelings towards my Orthodox “brothers” is generally fairly negative….

      Still…not very clear..SORRY ‘BOUT THAT….

  • 32
    kennedet says:

    I have had the good fortune of singing in one of the many productions of P&B over the years (Chorus and small role).

    Personally, P&B could be updated if it is studied scrupulously by a competent director, hopefully with a musical background and a thorough understanding of the novella and also,quite frankly, shortened. This could possibly ease the feeelings of African-Americans and others who find the 1930’s stereotype too painful to accept. However, through all of the arguments, accusations and debates, I find this masterpiece of music will always endure in the end. It always does.