The story of Porgy and Bess, set in the 1930s, is an African American opera set in a Charleston neighborhood known as Catfish Row. This opera is a tragic love story about a poor, crippled boy, Porgy, and a beautiful prostitute and addict, Bess, and was written by American Composer: George Gershwin. Bess is the victim of an abusive relationship; her partner, Crown, commits a murder and leaves her alone in the Catfish Row community, who disapproves of her lifestyle of sex, drugs, violence, etc. Bess develops an improbable relationship with Porgy and overtime her community grows to accept her. Unfortunately, when a hurricane strikes the town, Crown returns and both Porgy and Bess’ lives are changed forever. This is a story filled with murder, incarceration and heartbreak. Even though it is a sad story, it still has beauty. To find out how, I encourage you to watch for yourself.
Porgy and Bess is an opera, however the influence of traditional African American music is apparent. The scores have hints of Jazz, Blues, and Folk roots. My favorite songs from the show are “Summertime” and “A Woman is a Sometime Thing.” “Summertime” was extremely beautiful to me because it showcased Dorothy Dandridge’s beautiful soprano voice, and the background vocals were equally as beautiful and pure. “A Woman is a Sometime Thing” was one of my favorite numbers, first because of its comic relief. Secondly, I enjoyed Bruce Hubbard’s strong and dynamic baritone voice, along with his acting, and the background vocals from the ensemble.
“Summertime” x Dorothy Dandridge
“A Woman is a Sometime Thing” x Bruce Hubbard
The instrumentation in this show is extremely diverse as well. The orchestra is comprised of a Flute, Oboe, BB Clarinet, F Horn, BB Trumpet, Trombone, Electric Guitar, Electric Bass, Drum Set, Percussion, Violins, Viola, Cello, Piano, and a Synthesizer.
The Cast of Porgy and Bess, from the original movie in 1959, is filled with many iconic American actors and actresses: Sidney Poitier (Porgy), Dorothy Dandridge (Bess), Sammy Davis Jr. (Sportin’ Life), Bruce Hubbard, Pearl Bailey, Brock Peters, Diahann Carroll, Ruth Attaway, Clearance Muse, Calude Akins, Joel Fluellen, Ivan Dixon, Maurice Manson, Roy Glenn, and finally Bill Walker. This cast full of amazingly talented actors and actresses are credited with helping get Porgy and Bess rise to the level of success that it has achieved today.
This show was quite different from what I expected it to be. Being that I have not seen many operas, I was not prepared for the amount of singing that I heard. Although I have not seen many operas, I was thoroughly impressed by Porgy and Bess’ musical scores, acting, and costume designs. The storyline was intriguing from beginning to end. The actors and actresses did a beautiful job performing the music while also bringing the storyline to life with their acting skills. The talent of one who can sing opera and act at the same time should be recognized and held in high regard.
Also, i think it is interesting how such an iconic love story was created and centered around two unlikely lovers: a beggar boy and a prostitute. Those are not the typical people that love stories are generally written about. I think the juxtaposition of who we expect to see in a love story and who we actually are introduced to is ironic, yet enjoyable to watch.