Opera Scotland

Porgy and Bess

Music
George Gershwin (born Brooklyn, New York, 26 September 1898; died Hollywood, 11 July 1937)

Text
Book by DuBose Heyward; Lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin.

Source
Play Porgy by Dorothy and DuBose Heyward.

Premieres
First performance: New York (Alvin Theatre), 10 October 1935.
First UK performance: London (Stoll Theatre), 9 October 1952.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Festival Theatre), 30 October 2009 (probably earlier).
Scottish Opera première: N/A.

Background
George Gershwin (real name Jacob Gershvin) spent most of his career as a composer of musical comedies for Broadway, usually in collaboration with his brother, the lyricist Ira Gershwin. He always had ambitions as a composer of supposedly more serious music, to which end he studied with Ravel, and composed serious orchestral works such as his Piano Concerto, Rhapsody in Blue, and Cuban Overture, . He also had an ambition to compose serious opera, and Porgy is now widely recognised as one of the greatest operas of the twentieth century. Its initial run on Broadway was extremely successful for an opera.

Main Characters
Porgy, a crippled beggar (bass-baritone)
Crown, a stevedore (baritone)
Bess, Crown’s woman (soprano)
Serena, Robbins’ widow (soprano)
Clara (soprano)
Maria, a shopkeeper (contralto)
Jake, a fisherman, Clara’s husband (baritone)
Sporting Life, a drug dealer (tenor)

Plot Summary
The setting is Catfish Row, a poor fishing community in Charleston, South Carolina. On a Saturday evening, Clara sings a lullaby for her baby. Crown starts gambling and gets involved in a fight in which he kills Robbins, a villager. Crown flees, and Bess, abandoned to the fury of the community, is given shelter by Porgy. After a few weeks, Bess and Porgy are living happily together. However Porgy persuades her to go with the other villagers on a picnic to a nearby island. Crown has been hiding there, and he tries to persuade Bess to return to him. She refuses, but by the time she returns to Catfish Row she is seriously ill. A storm arises while the fishermen are at sea, and Jakes is drowned, as is Serena, who tried to save him. Bess looks after their baby. When Crown comes to try to persuade Bess to join him, Porgy kills him in a fight. While Porgy is assisting the police with their enquiries, Sporting Life gives Bess a supply of cocaine, and persuades her to join him in New York. When Porgy is released from prison without charge, he immediately decides to follow them to New York to reclaim Bess for himself.

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