Saturday, January 21, 2012

Op-ed piece on Porgy and Bess, stage history in New York Times

By op-ed columnist Joe Nocera on the Times' website today, a good brief summary of different productions and changing racial attitudes of the years, which have been quite conflicted.

Including this, quoting Jack O’Brien, director of the Houston Grand Opera revival of the original uncut opera version of Porgy and Bess in 1976:
After its 1976 run in Houston, the opera played in Washington, on its way to New York. Todd Duncan, Gershwin’s original Porgy, saw it there. Forty years earlier, Mr. Duncan had refused to sing “Porgy and Bess” in Washington unless the theater where it was being performed was desegregated. (It was, but only temporarily.) When he went backstage to shake the latest Porgy’s hand, he could only marvel at what he had seen. “It’s so black!” he told Mr. [Donnie Ray] Albert [who played Porgy in the Houston production].

Mr. O’Brien says that he doesn’t think of “Porgy and Bess” as African-American music. “It’s American music,” he said — and really, who can disagree? The blues and spirituals that make up the core of “Porgy and Bess,” written by a white Jewish composer and originating in the African-American community, is music we all embrace. It is part of America’s heritage and a source of American pride. It is unlikely that will ever change, for which we should be thankful.

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