4 August 2012

Porgy and Bess at ENO

I like to try different things so when friends suggested going to see Porgy and Bess at ENO that was an easy thing to say yes to.

My knowledge of Gershwin was limited beforehand and hardly stretched beyond Summertime, which opened the show. It is sung as a lullaby as we are introduced to the scene and the characters.

This is a poor black community in South Carolina in the then present age, that is the 1930's. Then the marks of slavery heavily scar their lives and while they are nominally free they are far from equal.

They are consoled in their lives by the little pleasures of games like craps, some drug taking (Happy Dust) and a heavy dose of the religion that white men gave them.

Porgy is disabled and moves around on a cart that is little more than a board on wheels. Bess is the baddie's floozy and is one of those that uses Happy Dust.

After the craps gave a fight ensues, a man is killed, the baddie runs away to hide and Bess ends up with Porgy. The story develops from there.

The story is told in spoken words that are punctuated by songs so you could argue that this is more a musical than an opera, but that is just semantics.

The songs are surprisingly slight musically. For example, we all know the rich sound of Summertime but in its opera form it is a thinner and shorter song. It is sung several times though.

The only other songs that I recognised were I Got Plenty o' Nuttin' and "It Ain't Necessarily So, but that says more about my knowledge of Gershwin than it does the strength of the songs.

There is a plot and one that twists and turns a little and also flows up and down emotionally so there is plenty to get involved with. I loved the feeling from the community too, these were people that I cared about.

The singing and acting helped me to care. These were quickly people that I could believe in and share the pain of their existence as a group and individually.

There are several ways that you can read the plot, and I am sure that my reading is not what any of the authors intended, but the message that I got was that their religion gave them nothing but false hope and the only certainty that they had was in drugs.

I would be hard-pressed to say that Porgy and Bess is now one of my favourite operas so I'll simply say that I loved the plot, loved the characters and quite enjoyed the music and would have liked more of it.

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