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Thread: Porgy and Bess at the Cincinnati Opera

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    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    Porgy and Bess at the Cincinnati Opera

    25 July 2019
    Springer Auditorium, Music Hall

    Opera in three acts
    Music by George Gershwin
    Libretto by Ira Gershwin based on the play by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward

    Conductor: David Charles Abell
    Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
    Chorus Master: Henri Venanzi
    Cincinnati Opera Chorus

    Original Production: Francesca Zambello
    Director: Garnett Bruce
    Set Designer: Peter G. Davison
    Costume Designer: Paul Tazewell
    Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough
    Assistant Lighting Designer: Peter W. Mitchell
    Wig and Make-up Designer: James Geier
    Original Choreography: Eric Sean Fogel
    Choreographer: Eboni Adams
    Fight Director: Gina Cerimele-Mechley
    Supertitles Author: Kelley Rourke, Glimmerglass Festival
    Production Stage Manager: Constance Dubinski Grubbs

    Porgy: Morris Robinson
    Bess: Talise Trevigne
    Crown: Nmon Ford
    Serena: Indra Thomas
    Maria: La’Shelle Allen
    Sportin’ Life: Frederick Ballantine Jr.
    Clara: Janai Brugger
    Jake: Reginald Smith Jr.
    Mingo: Ernest Jackson
    Robbins/Crab Man: Larry D. Hylton
    Jim: Phillip Bullock
    Peter (Honey Man): Everett McCorvey
    Lily: Gabriella Sam
    Undertaker: Nathaniel Thompson
    Annie: Melisa Bonetti
    Nelson: Darian Clonts
    Strawberry Woman: Brittany Logan
    Detective: Spenser Smith
    Coroner: Jared Joplin

    Scenery originally created for Glimmerglass Festival and Seattle Opera; costumes by Washington National Opera; sound design by Joel Morain originally for Glimmerglass Festival

    The Cincinnati Opera’s 100th season is coming to a conclusion with this top-notch production of Porgy and Bess – a fitting end to two months of outstanding performances. Absolutely everything is right here, with a great cast, the excellent Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra led by David Charles Abell, and an attractive staging first seen at the Glimmerglass Festival and directed here by Garnett Bruce. Maestro Abell and the CSO delivered a rousing account of Gershwin’s score with its influences of jazz, Gospel, and Spirituals, but never let the volume of sound overwhelm those onstage. The superb soloists were led by the Porgy of Morris Robinson, who has also sung the role at La Scala and impressed with both his rich, resonant bass and commanding stage presence. His Bess, Talise Trevigne, displayed an attractive soprano and created a credible portrait of a woman trapped in a drug addiction and the abusive relationship with the brutal Crown. Without Porgy’s strong presence to support her, her attempt to escape both addiction and what’s certain to be another disastrous relationship with Sportin’ Life falters. Nmon Ford, who recently appeared as Crown with the English National Opera, lent his robust baritone to the bullying, violent dockworker while suggesting the sexual magnetism he exercises over Bess. Frankly, I disagreed with the directorial decision to have Crown rape Bess on Kittiwah Island. While he does attempt to force himself on her, ultimately it’s a combination of sexual attraction and her own fatalism and passivity that lead Bess to give in to him. Another “alumnus” of the ENO production (and a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music) was tenor Frederick Ballantine Jr. as Sportin’ Life, a role in which he’ll appear at the Met. He has a pleasant lyric tenor with a secure upper register that projects well over the orchestra, and like his colleagues, he has real theatrical flair. This slick, cynical drug dealer was not without a certain insinuating charm.

    Janai Brugger, our wonderful Susanna from the season-opening production of Le Nozze di Figaro, returned as the young mother Clara and immediately won the audience with her beautiful singing of “Summertime.” She was partnered by the Jake of Reginald Smith Jr. (who is also slated to undertake the role at the Met), with a warm, robust baritone. There were powerful contributions from soprano Indra Thomas as the deeply religious Serena, moving in both her lament for her slain husband and a rendition of “Oh, Doctor Jesus” that was a real show-stopper; tenor Larry D. Hylton in the dual roles of Robbins and the Crab Man; contralto La’Shelle Allen as the plain-spoken cookshop keeper Maria, whose no-holds-barred dressing down of Sportin’ Life drew enthusiastic applause and cheers from the audience; and tenor Everett McCorvey as the good-natured, elderly Peter who is victimized by the aggressive, racist police detective (actor Spenser Smith) – a role he’ll likewise sing at the Met. The other soloists were all capable singer-actors: tenor Ernest Jackson (Mingo), baritone Phillip Bullock (Jim), soprano Gabriella Sam (Lily), baritone Nathaniel Thompson (Undertaker), mezzo Melisa Bonetti (Annie), tenor Darian Clonts (Nelson), and soprano Brittany Logan (Strawberry Woman). The spoken role of the Coroner was taken by actor Jared Joplin. As usual, Chorus Master Henri Venanzi had the members of the Cincinnati Opera Chorus well prepared for their assignment, and they sang and acted with plenty of verve.

    Although the performance yesterday evening lasted a good three hours, there were some cuts made to Gershwin’s score. The introductory scene with the pianist Jasbo Brown was omitted, the character of the sleazy lawyer Frazier was cut, and the passage in Act III where Sportin’ Life tells Porgy that corpses of murder victims bleed if their killer looks at their face was dropped. The last-mentioned is actually an important element in the plot, as it makes the credulous Porgy refuse to identify Crown’s body – which lands him a week in jail for contempt of court, and his absence enables Sportin’ Life to play on Bess’ weakness and persuade her to accompany him to New York.

    The sets by Peter J. Davison depicted the inner courtyard of the dilapidated mansion where the residents of Catfish Row have made their homes, with the exterior of the structure consisting of two wings at right angles to each other and a balcony running along the upper story. A drop screen was used for those scenes which took place indoors and for the picnic on Kittiwah Island. The fury of the Act II hurricane was memorably captured by both Gershwin’s thunderous music and the evocative lighting by Mark McCullough and Peter W. Mitchell. The colorful costumes by Paul Tazewell and Loren Shaw generally reflected the styles of the 1930s, with Bess first appearing in a slinky orange dress that let her display lots of leg (and which she wore near the end when leaving with Sportin’ Life), and the dope dealer clad in a variety of appropriately flashy threads. Porgy used crutches rather than a goat cart as a means of mobility.

    As with each of the preceding productions this year, the evening ended with a standing ovation while all of the artists took their bows.
    Last edited by MAuer; July 29th, 2019 at 10:47 AM.

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  3. #2
    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    Thank you for an excellent review.

    Shame about the cuts though.
    "Every theatre is an insane asylum, but an opera theatre is the ward for the incurables."

    FRANZ SCHALK, attributed, Losing the Plot in Opera: Myths and Secrets of the World's Great Operas

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