28 June 2012
George and Ira Gershwin: Porgy and Bess
Porgy: Jonathan Lemalu
Bess: Measha Brueggergosman
Clara: Jacqueline Echols
Jake: Michael Preacely
Serena: Adrienne Danrich
Robbins: Larry Hylton
Crown: Gordon Hawkins
Sporting Life: Steven Cole
Maria: Brandi Samuel
Mingo: Luther Lewis
Jim: Keith Dean
Frazier: Reginald Smith Jr.
Peter: Everett McCorvey
Annie: Chabrelle Denise Williams
Undertaker: David Michael
Nelson: Cameo Humes
Strawberry Woman: Taylor Johnson
Crab Man: Luther Lewis
Detective: Brian Isaac Phillips
Coroner: Jared Joplin
Police Officer: Ian Bond
Conducted by: David Charles Abell
Directed by: Lemuel Wade
As I’d expected, the audience at Thursday evening’s performance of Porgy and Bess was much larger than that which attended the 2012 season opening with I Pagliacci and Gianni Schicchi two weeks ago. There were no vacant seats around me this time. I think a couple of factors may have made the difference. As a popular, English language opera by a well-known American composer, Porgy and Bess may have seemed more accessible to people who are not as comfortable with “grand opera.” And for those who are opera enthusiasts, the presence of Jonathan Lemalu and Measha Brueggergosman in the title roles may have been an added incentive for attending. In any case, this performance was a rousing success, drawing a standing ovation and hearty applause and cheering from the audience as cast members took their curtain calls.
And what a cast it was. Lemalu and Brueggergosman have big, opulent voices that were exactly right for their roles, and made real show-stoppers of the arias “I’ve got plenty of nothin’,” and “What you want with Bess?” and the duet, “Bess, you is my woman now.” My only quibble was with stage director Lemuel Wade’s decision to let us see Bess leaving with Sporting Life. I felt she gave in to the dope peddler’s blandishments a little too easily. It would have been better to just let us see her finally opening the door to retrieve the packet of “Happy Dust” he had left as a temptation, to illustrate her weakening resolve.
And speaking of Sporting Life: tenor Steven Cole sang and acted up a storm as the slick, manipulative drug dealer. He’s one of the best I’ve heard in the role. Adrienne Danrich let her luxuriant soprano soar in Serena’s emotion-laden lament for her dead husband and then the gospel-inspired invocation to “Dr. Jesus.” Gordon Hawkins, who also includes the role of Porgy in his repertoire, brought a burnished, powerful baritone and plenty of menace and swagger to the bullying Crown. Jacqueline Echols delivered a sweetly-sung “Summertime,” and Michael Preacely gave a rich, attractively sung and sympathetic portrayal to Clara’s husband, Jake. Mezzo Brandi Samuel, whose repertoire includes such varied roles as Baba the Turk, Madame de Croissy, and Mrs. Grose in The Turn of the Screw, elicited appreciative applause and laughter from the audience as Maria when the cook-shop owner gave Sporting Life that marvelously blunt piece of her mind.
All of the other roles, no matter how brief, were splendidly sung and acted. I especially liked Reginald Smith Jr. as the shyster “lawyer” Frazier and Brian Isaac Phillips as the racist “good ol’ boy” detective.
Some cuts were made to the score, most noticeably the opening scene with Jasbo Brown. But in a program article, conductor David Charles Abell explained how he had researched cuts Gershwin himself made for the 1935 Broadway production, and, working with Lemuel Wade and Cincinnati Opera coach-accompanist Seann Alderking, had generally tried to follow the composer’s lead.
In a normal four-production season, the next opera would be performed in another two weeks, on 12 and 14 July. However, Cincinnati Opera management yielded the space in Music Hall to accommodate competitions of the World Choir Games, which will be held in the Queen City 4-14 July. The opera’s 2012 season will conclude 26 and 28 July with performances of La Traviata.