“Porgy and Bess” by Gershwin: true love blooms when caring for each other…

MET Opera House building–Lincoln Center/Monday September 23rd, 2019.

This week, friends, welcome to the 2019-2020 MET Opera’s thrilling Opening night!

And what an Opening it was!

Potent, powerful, and passion infused!

This mythical, dazzling, 1936, Gershwin “folk” opera, based on a 1925 Dubose Heyward novel, “Porgy”, in collaboration with Ira Gershwin (George’s brother), lyrics wise, is an unusual, rich, and exhilarating American “modern” opera, in my mind; which also announces for me, the full flourishing era, of upcoming beautiful musicals.

Musically speaking, “Porgy and Bess” is a joy to listen to, as is an opera full of life, including jazz, spirituals, lullabies, rush of tides, swirling hurricane winds, and some Gullah music from Tidewater Carolina, which was beautifully conducted last Monday, by Robertson.

What is it about?

In a nutshell, “Porgy and Bess” depicts complex, beautiful and dark issues, which torment the inhabitants of Catfish row, a close-knit, fictionalized seaside, black neighborhood around Charleston, South Carolina, who take care of each other.

It is overflowing with an array of emotions and events: love, friendship, rivalry, abuse, dark crimes, drugs, and also thankfully, is filled with many heartwarming and fun, everyday life events.

Its open-ended conclusion fosters also, for optimists in life, the wonderful hope, that love will eventually prevail for the two love birds; when Porgy, as he gets back home, to Catfish row, after various events, realizes with great clarity, that he can’t live without his Bess, and needs to go to New York to find her!

The stunning Robinson production, featuring a tremendously lively, rotating set, poetic lighting design by Holder, stunning projection design by Halls, superb 1920’s garb by Zuber, as well as an exhilarating Camille A. Brown choreography, allowed also, to showcase with additional energy, pizzazz, and conviction, the amazing, fiery, feisty cast and chorus, as they sang, and often danced feverishly as well, to many soulful fabulous tunes!

Here are four examples of powerful moments of this opera:

First, of course, let’s listen to the legendary, iconic “Summertime” lullaby, which kicks off the opera beautifully; sung last Monday, by amazing South African soprano, Golda Schultz, as Clara, relaxing after a day’s work, and sweetly singing to her baby; and let’s pay attention also, to the poetic musical background, and in particular to the swirling winds conveyed by the amazing chorus, hired especially for this opera:

Let’s listen now, to Latonia Moore, a delightfully powerful American soprano, as stricken Serena, another Catfish row inhabitant, shell-shocked after her husband’s murder: let’s listen in particular, to her awesomely soulful expression, and what music!

Now let’s watch Frederick Ballentine, the seductive American tenor, in rehearsal here, as Sportin’ Life, the lewd drug dealer, singing with ease and charm, the famous aria: “It ain’t necessarily so”:

Finally, let’s watch, one of the happiest moments of the opera, a remarkable and moving love duet, between our heroes, and you’ll see how last Monday, Eric Owens, the mighty bass baritone American, portrayed fabulously, a solemn, vibrant, protective, besotted and devoted Porgy. As for Angel blue, the beautiful American soprano, she evoked magnificently, majestically, and with subtlety, the scarred and fragile Bess, the heart-breaking heroine of this piece, prisoner of her addictions, yet so incredibly happy, strong, and free, when alongside her Porgy, she deeply loves, as we can see.

And it was so exciting, to finally have the MET bring back “Porgy and Bess” to Opening night, after a few decades; as this American masterpiece, has had, and still holds, a huge influence over the lives of many around the world; none of which is surprising, when we know how incredibly important Gershwin was, and still remains, as a composer.

But first, let’s listen to a few modern renditions of some of the famous “Porgy and Bess” arias/tunes which I particularly enjoy:

Let’s start with iconic “Summertime”.

And of course, my favorite by far, is by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, which I like even more, than the opera version, because Ella, is the best singer ever, bar none, in my opinion.

Enjoy!

Yet, I also love this one, by Mahalia Jackson:

And here are a few different more recent versions, I also love:

Let’s first, listen to a dynamite trio:

And now, let’s add a few instruments for another wonderful “cover” by another group of terrific musicians, with yet, another mood, and fantastic as well!

Enjoy:

And lastly, because “Summertime” is a lullaby, let’s listen to this amazing arrangement, sung by incredibly talented children.

Prepare to be amazed!

And from the “It ain’t necessarily so” aria/tune, let’s listen to two great versions:

First, let’s listen to the best one for me, by far, by the great Aretha:

And let’s listen now, to a second great cover, by two famous artists you might recognize:

Amazing!

And the last aria/tune, from the opera which we will be listening to is: “I love you Porgy”:

Let’s listen to the best version for me, by far, that I even prefer to the opera, by the incredible Nina Simone:

https://youtu.be/ewNw78TpRPk

And now, let’s listen to a great rendition as well, by the great Christina!

Enjoy!

And now, let me give you, some additional background about the great George, to realize, just how much staying power, many of his compositions have had over the years; and I’ll just mention a few, because otherwise, this long post, will be endless.

And although Gershwin did not live a very long life (September 26, 1898 – July 11, 1937), he did live, a very creative one. Of Ukrainian Jewish descent, Gershwin was recognized early on, for his huge contributions in classical and popular genres, as a composer and pianist.

At 15, after quitting school, Gershwin worked in Manhattan’s Tin Pan Alley, the current “flower” market district, a haven at the time for songwriters and publishers, many of whom became also, famous American composers/lyricists, and were involved in many iconic American musicals or movies (Irving Berlin, Hoadgy Carmichael, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Scott Joplin, Lew Brown, Oscar Hammerstein, Richard Rodgers to name a few); and some of whom, he befriended, (Kern in particular). And you will see also, that this community of artists, brought to life, amazing tunes/songs themselves, at the time, or in the following decades, more on that in a second, which makes us wonder, how much more great work, Gershwin would have been able also to create, had he lived longer.

But first, let’s get back to Gershwin, prior to composing his 1935 “Porgy and Bess” opera. His reputation as a composer had been firmly recognized by his peers, a few years before, in 1924, with his masterpiece “Rhapsody in Blue”, which many, at the time (and later on), adored.

And I think, Gershwin would have loved to know, how worshipped he was, and still is, by many great “stars” in the following decades, who not only respect/respected his work, put also pay/paid hommage to it, as for example, Woody Allen did; with his fantastic opening scene, of his highly awarded 1979, delightfully wonderful “Manhattan” movie, which celebrates Gershwin’s amazing and powerful “Rhapsody” piece; to help him describe New York’s unique and marvelous vibrancy. Let’s watch this hilarious, beautiful, and arresting opening scene:

And prior to his 1935 “Porgy and Bess”, Gershwin also wrote, a few years before, in 1928, his famous “An American in Paris” musical, with also wonderful lyrics from his brother Ira.

And the musical was inspired by George living in Paris for a while, where he became good friends with many, including classical musicians. And as we know, most of these beautiful tunes/songs from his “An American in Paris” musical, only really reached a worldwide audience, a few decades later, with the 1951, Minelli movie “An American in Paris”, with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. And for kicks, let me also remind you, that a few of these amazing tunes/songs, were included as well, a few years later, in 1957, in “Funny Face” by Donen, with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire.

How wonderful for us!

Let’s just watch a few beautiful excerpts:

First, let’s admire Gene and Leslie, sing and dance to Gershwin’ “Our love is here to stay” which is perfect, to describe Porgy and Bess’s love for each other:

And now, let’s watch Gene Kelly, here with Georges Guétary, also singing and dancing with joy, to Gershwin’s charming “S’Wonderful”love tune, which, Porgy and Bess would have also loved, I am sure:

https://youtu.be/7EjF-I6aMc0

And now, in “Funny Face”, let’s admire Fred Astaire and the lovely Audrey Hepburn, singing to Gershwin’s “Funny Face” tune, a delightful love song as well, for any love birds:

And later in the movie, let’s watch them sing another charming version, of Gershwin’s delightful and so romantic “S’ Wonderful”:

And before talking about Jerome Kern, I have to mention Scott Joplin’s 1902 “The Entertainer” piece, which has also become an icon, and can be heard in “The Sting” the 1973 movie by Hill; and was certainly an inspiration for Gershwin, when writing his “Porgy and Bess” opera:

And let’s now take a look at a few tunes, from his esteemed colleague and friend, Jerome Kern; whose fabulous tunes/songs about life and love, were probably also, for some, an inspiration as well, for Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”; or that the characters themselves (Porgy and Bess) would definitely enjoy!

In particular, from Kern, let’s admire from the 1927 stage musical, a 1951 version of an iconic tune from “Show boat”, which like “Porgy and Bess”, is also infused with the notion, that all communities need to live with dignity, and take care of each other; in joyful times, as well as, when facing all sorts of trials and tribulations.

Enjoy this magnificent song, which gives me the chills, every time!

And let’s get back to Porgy and Bess’s love for one another. From “Swing time” (1936) from Stevens, let’s admire two wonderful Kern songs/tunes, which the love birds would probably enjoy as well:

First, let’s listen to the iconic “The way you look tonight”:

And now, let’s listen to “A fine romance”, still from the same “Swing time” Stevens (1936) movie, about love’s complexities at times, which just needs to be enjoyed simply, in my opinion, instead of letting youthful shenanigans, get in the way:

And now, here are two of my very favorite tunes/songs from Kern, from two Seiter movies, of this iconic time, which Porgy and Bess would probably also be fond of:

First, let’s watch the iconic tune/song “I won’t dance”, from the 1935 “Roberta” movie, by Seiter:

And I love also, this modern take on the “I won’t dance” tune, from the 2010 “Step up 3D” film by Chu:

And now, let’s watch my very favorite tune/song from Kern, from the “You were never lovelier” 1942 film, also by Seiter:

Just delightful!

Enjoy:

I’ll also mention a few other songs, from a handful of Gershwin’s colleagues, because they are so beautiful, and related to “Porgy and Bess” in various ways:

From Irving Berlin, I’ll just mention three, although there are so many:

From “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (1930) by Sloman, let’s admire again, the great dancing from Fred Astaire; and his depictions of New York; which remind me also, of the importance of idealized New York, in “Porgy and Bess”:

https://vimeo.com/6971656

From “Top Hat” (1935) by Sandrich, let’s listen to this iconic tune about love’s heavenly feeling, which is also alluded to, in “Porgy and Bess”:

And from 1946 musical “Annie get your gun”, let’s listen now, to a hilarious tune, which is sure to entertain you, and talks also, about other fun youthful mischiefs, that can be found in love, at times; and that would probably amuse Porgy and Bess, when relaxing at home, like it would, many love birds:

And from Lew Brown, let’s listen to a terrific “cover” by Doris Day, singing in 1948, “That Old Feeling”, which both Porgy or Bess, could be singing to each other.

Why not?

And how about the romance exuded from Carmichael’s enchanting song, “The nearness of you”?

Let’s listen to a 1940 recording by Glenn Miller and his orchestra:

And I love this 2002 Nora Jones version of course, of this romantic Carmichael’s song:

Just beautiful!

Enjoy!

And from Cole Porter’s 1934 “Anything goes” musical, here is a 1956, lovely version, of the tune sang here, by Ella Fitzgerald; for Porgy and Bess:

And let’s mention also, just a few tunes, from iconic Hammerstein and Rodgers as well: originally from the 1931 “Oklahoma!” play, let’s take a look and listen, to two iconic tunes, from the 1955 film, by Zinnemann:

First, let’s listen to the most historic one; you will recognize it, trust me!

And this tune, still from the 1955 “Oklahoma!” film, would also, I am quite certain, enchant Porgy and Bess, about “dos and dont’s” in matters of love.

So beautiful!

Also still from Rodgers and Hammerstein, let’s listen to one of my very favorite tunes ever, originally from a 1902 play, and adapted in the “Carousel” film in 1956, by King:

And still from amazing Rodgers and Hammerstein, who, doesn’t just adore this scene, and the romance of the song, and beautiful love story between these two love birds, originally from the 1949 musical, adapted in a 1958 film, by Logan.

An epic love story, which, as one knows, sometimes, strikes like lightning; just like it did, for Porgy and Bess:

Enjoy:

And finally, from Rodgers and Hammerstein, let’s listen to one song from the 1959 musical “The Sound of Music”, later adapted in film by Robert Wise in 1965, an enchanting tune, sang here by Julie Andrews, of course:

https://youtu.be/i_KfL71yf2Y

And while I’m on the topic of beautiful musicals, of course, let’s mention Bernstein’s 1957 musical “West Side Story”, later adapted in film, by Robbins in 1962. Let’s listen to a charming 2012 rendition for the BBC Proms:

Enjoy:

And finally, because Gershwin loved mixing musical genres, let’s skip a few decades; and I was wondering, what Gershwin would have thought of British garage/dance music, in 2013; and which, this summer, was adapted to an orchestral, more classical version, by a joyful marching band; and speaks to me as well, of the love of Porgy and Bess, for each other.

How wonderful!

Let’s listen to the two versions:

First, let’s listen to the 2013 Garage/dance version:

And now, let’s listen to the 2019 “Marching band” version:

How fun!

And to conclude this very long, joyful, and “off the wall”, post; let’s finally listen to a wonderful quatuor, from a 2016 sketch, who love music, in all of its genres; which I am sure, Gershwin would have also enjoyed, as they too, exude so much creativity, talent and joy!

Yay!

Soft…

Fluttering…

Imaginative…

Joyful…

Peaceful…

Loving…

Eternal butterflies 😊