Porgy & Bev
Beverley Wong joined the chorus of Porgy & Bess following a feature on ITV news that aimed to find black opera singers to star in the opera.
George Gershwin, composer, and Ira Gershwin, librettist, stipulated that every performance of Porgy & Bess should have an all black cast and Grange Park Opera wanted to honour their wishes.
Watch the ITV appeal for black singers for our production of Porgy & Bess and the follow up interview with Beverley and Porgy & Bess director Jean-Pierre Van der Spuy.
We caught up with Beverley following her appearance in eight performances of Porgy and Bess, which ran from 8 June – 7 July 2019.
Can you sum up your experience of being part of Porgy & Bess in one sentence?
An awesome challenge and an amazing experience with wonderful memories.
What was the best part?
Bringing to life a character and representing Gershwin’s story in 2019.
How did you find the experience of being on stage each night?
Initially I wondered if I could reproduce the same intensity and commitment each night. But the cast were wonderful and we brought new life into each of our performances. The time spent in rehearsals working together and getting to know each other really paid off because we couldn’t fake our chemistry on stage.
What will you take away from the experience?
I’ve taken away the following: that having confidence and faith in who you are is good enough; even the things that scare you can build you up if you are willing to face your fear and work on them. After I had sung at my audition, I didn’t think that I had sung particularly well especially when you try and measure yourself up to others who have sung ahead of you. Nerves always tend to creep in. On the walk home I was explaining to myself that couldn’t be anything other than who I am. Could I learn? The answer was yes. Could I work hard? Again, the answer was yes. I didn’t know just how much I would have to learn nor how vulnerable I would feel at times.
However, in life things happen and it’s really about how you respond to them that makes the experience either positive or negative. Overwhelmingly I have learnt I can do anything that I put my mind to, that opera might be a new thing for me and that its normal to be scared but to explore new avenues anyway.
Would you like to be part of an opera ensemble again? Do you plan to take part in any opera again in the future?
Yes I would take part in an opera ensemble again. I am looking into ways to improve upon my vocals and new opportunities to expand upon what I learnt while at Grange Park Opera.
Was Porgy & Bess different to your previous musical experience?
My previous musical experience focused more upon how I wanted to interpret songs and music and to express as I felt. Porgy and Bess was simple but far more disciplined. Singing a part that fit into the beautiful whole of the piece was significantly different because it wasn’t about the I but more about the ‘we’. Each having a part that made up the whole and so that was different from focusing only on how I sang but more about how we all sang together.
Being among a group of such vocal talent was challenging, exciting, moving and humbling. I obviously haven’t had formal training so there were times I felt vulnerable and exposed but rather than give up or leave I asked for help, was willing to learn and put the work in required to hone my talents. This helped me move beyond my fears. I spoke when I didn’t understand things such as the fact that I couldn’t really read music and didn’t know musical terms. A steep learning curve but I felt the fear and did it anyway.
What did you make of the story of Porgy & Bess?
The theme that spoke to me from this story was the struggle to make positive changes in your life. I know that the pressures of life sometimes affect our choices and we can struggle to be the best version of ourselves. Sometime we rely upon old patterns, that are familiar, rather than take the risk of the unfamiliar. This I could relate to – in October 2018 I left a job not knowing what my next step was going to be. I trusted that my life skills, talents and willingness to take a risk doing what brought me joy would pay off. Then along came this opportunity to be part of Porgy and Bess. Giving birth to anything new has it challenges and being a mature woman taking a risk at that time might have seemed foolish but I will always be able to say without this risk I wouldn’t have been in a place ready to begin a new adventure.