Review – Porgy and Bess

Thursday 21 December 2006

Porgy and BessIn the interests of their personal safety, the West End Whingers normally hunt as a pair (you never know around which corner WEW stalker Liliane Montevecchi might be lurking).

But this weekend Phil was partly working and – still not having completely recovered from the Daddy Cool experience a month ago – was spending the rest of his time lying down in a darkened room.

Opera consultant AndersSo Andrew decided it was an opportunity for the whingers to branch out of their comfort zone. So, at great personal expense he flew in his Finnish opera buff friend Anders (right) from Zurich (yes we know Zurich isn’t in Finland) to accompany him to two pieces of vaguely opera-related entertainment – Made Up (see separate review) at the Jermyn Street Theatre and Porgy and Bess at the Savoy.

Now, neither whinger really does opera, so having a serious opera lover on hand was vital to the success of this radical departure.

Being an equal-opportunities reviewer, Andrew was naturally excited about the prospect of seeing the new production of what is certainly the world’s leading negro cripple opera (I’m quoting from the text here).

Except, of course, that Porgy and Bess is no longer an opera. Trevor Nunn has got his hands on it so now it’s only three hours long instead of four, and you can understand what’s going on.

Is this A Good Thing? On the whole, yes. The songs may not have the power of the original (they have been adapted for musical theatre voices) but it’s much easier to make out the words (so it is definitely not opera) and makes for quite an enjoyable evening (ditto).

The recitative has wisely been replaced with dialogue and the whole thing is rather engaging, if a bit on the dark side.

Both principals are strong. Clarke Peters (Porgy) delivers his usual quality performance and Nicola Hughes makes a wonderfully voluptuous Bess.

Also deserving of special mention is Dawn Hope as Serena whose performance of the score’s most difficult song – My Man’s Gone Now – is eerily moving. Ms Hope also endeared herself to the whingers thanks to her website (the address of which is sadly misprinted at the bottom of her biog in the programme) which contains a link to the website of the fabulous Ellen Greene.

The music has been adapted by the ultra-prolific West End MD Gareth Valentine who has done a decent job of normalising the range for musical theatre performers and not a bad job in re-orchestrating a score which was written for 50 players into something which a mere 20 can handle.

a West End Whinger caught leaving Porgy and Bess

It helps that the songs are so strong and so familiar as jazz standards that this kind of “rebooting” can be achieved. How can you lose with tunes such as I Loves You, Porgy, Bess, You is my Woman Now and It Ain’t Necessarily So? It’s a shame that the opening Summertime isn’t more haunting, but that’s a small gripe. And why no song listing in the programme? Strange.

But three hours is quite long enough. In fact, even the Gershwins must have thought that their original four hours was plenty long enough, as the show ends rather abruptly mid-story. Or as one might say of a film – open to a sequel. For heavens sake don’t mention that to Mr Nunn. And especially don’t mention it to Mr Lloyd Webber.

So what did opera purist Anders make of the transformation? Well, apparently, the entire question is based on false reasoning as Porgy and Bess never was an opera in the first place. So there you are.

Ticket tip: We got day seats (a limited number available in person from the box office from 10am). Front row of the stalls (row BB) £20. You should have seen the faces on the Americans behind us when we told them. They naively thought their £60 row A seats would put them on the front row. Cost of winding up an American tourist? Priceless.

3 Responses to “Review – Porgy and Bess”

  1. Anders Says:

    Correct. Real opera was written before 1920.

  2. Discuss. Use both sides of the paper if necessary.

  3. Anders Says:

    No need to discuss, it is a purely purist view – but true.

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