Porgy & Bess
There has always been a debate about whether George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is an opera or a musical. But who cares? Gershwin epic tale stars Musa Ngqungwana as Porgy, praised by the New York Times for his “rich, glowing voice and elegant legato”. Laquita Mitchell first sang Bess with San Francisco Opera and subsequently with Boston Symphony, Cleveland and Tanglewood. Her onstage husband Crown is Donovan Singletary recently of the Young Artist Program at the Metropolitan Opera; South African Rheinaldt Tshepo Moagi is drug dealer Sportin' Life.
The action takes place in South Carolina in the 1930s.
ACT 1: Saturday night
People relax after work at Jasbo Brown’s club; in the courtyard of Catfish Row, Clara sings a lullaby to her child. Her husband, Jake, sings his own lullaby and gambles on dice with friends including Sportin’ Life, a drug-dealer. Porgy, a beggar, tries to join in and defends Bess against the gossip. Jake accuses Porgy of being soft on her. Porgy’s viewpoint is that God made him a cripple and meant him to be lonely.
Bess and her husband Crown join the dice game. Crown loses and picks a fight with Robbins who is killed. Crown runs to hide, telling Bess he will be back. Sportin’ Life offers to take her to New York, but she refuses. They wait for the police.
Bess is shunned by everyone. Porgy offers to help her.
The mourners at Robbins’ funeral are led by his widow, Serena. The police appear and arrest Peter the Honeyman as a “material witness.” Serena convinces the undertaker to bury Robbins for less than his usual fee. Bess leads the mourners and the community reluctantly allow her a place amongst them.
ACT 2: A month later
Life in Catfish Row is back to normal. Jake is about to leave for work on the fishing boat but Clara begs him to stay. Every year around this same time, there are dangerous storms.
Porgy compares his own life to theirs. Sportin’ Life is still selling his “happy dust.” Lawyer Frazier arrives and sells Bess a divorce. Mr. Archdale, a well-meaning white man, offers to pay Peter’s bail.
Everyone is preparing for the church picnic on Kittiwah Island. Sportin’ Life again asks Bess to leave for New York. Again she refuses. She has given up dope and with Porgy has found happiness. Porgy spots a buzzard flying over the town and yells at it to go away. It is a bad omen.
As Maria heads to the boat, she invites Bess to join the picnic. Bess initially declines but is persuaded. Porgy stays behind.
At the picnic, Sportin’ Life sings about his own brand of religion. The picnic is nearly over when Crown, hidden in the bushes, calls out to Bess. She tells him she’s Porgy’s woman now, but he blocks her escape.
Some time later, Bess is still delirious after Crown’s attack. Peter wants to send her to the hospital, but Serena would rather pray over her. The street fills with people and Bess eventually emerges. She explains to Porgy that she wants to stay with him but that Crown won't allow her to. Porgy vows to protect her.
Everyone gathers in Clara’s room and prays for shelter from the hurricane. Eventually the storm surge recedes and the women are crying for their men lost at sea. Sportin’ Life teases them. Crown enters and fights Porgy who kills him.
When the police and the coroner arrive the next morning, everyone pleads dumb. Porgy is asked to identify Crown's body, but refuses so is dragged off to jail. Sportin' Life tells Bess that Porgy will be locked up for a long time. She eventually succumbs to the happy dust and is persuaded by Sportin' Life's dreamy depiction of their new life together.
A week later, Porgy returns and discovers Bess has left with Sportin’ Life. Determined to find her, Porgy prays to God and sets out to New York City.