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Arts & Culture

Joseph Dalton Reviews "Porgy And Bess" At Glimmerglass

From start to finish the new production of “Porgy and Bess” at the Glimmerglass Festival is a strong and handsome evening of music and theater.  The show is full of beautiful music and has more than a few hit songs by George Gershwin.  Conductor John DeMain keeps things moving.  And with typical good taste and efficiency, director Francesca Zambello has things moving to the right places. 

Heading the huge cast is bass baritone Musa Ngqungwana.  His Porgy has some well earned grit to his voice but also a warm and appealing vibrato that comes through in early numbers like “I Got Plenty of Nothin’.” 

As Bess, soprano Talise Trevigne also sings beautifully.  Despite her bright orange slip dress and red hair, Trevigne’s Bess often seems ragged and off kilter physically, a reflection of her wrenching inner conflicts between a life of propriety or of continued addiction.  When Porgy and Bess are in bed together singing “Bess You Is My Woman Now,” there’s a bittersweet and unsettled mingling of seduction and devotion.

Heading the fine supporting cast was tenor Jermaine Smith as Sportin’ Life.  He’s got one of the best songs of the night with “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”  Though a substitute for an ill cast member, Smith never felt like a stand-in.  In fact, he’s made a career out of the role.  He played it to the hilt with an irresistible mix of overt, hammy virtuosity and underhanded trickery. 

The genuine villain though is Crown, played with a dark and slouching confidence by baritone Norman Garrett.  As Clara, soprano Meroë Khalia Adeeb gave a rather operatic account of the first hit song of the night, “Summertime.” 

Though practically every other song is a hit, the numbers aren’t delivered with a preening showy attitude -- except for when it comes to Sportin’ Life, who’s all about attitude

Seated in the opera house, one could feel physical jolts as the thunderstorm in the second act rolls in.  Afterward comes a touching passage when the cast, illuminated by golden footlights, gathers at the apron of the stage to pray. The climactic fight scene, which follows, is brief but wrenching.

For new comers to opera or for veteran fans, “Porgy and Bess” is the opera to see this summer.  It runs through August 21 at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown.

Local arts writer Joseph Dalton is the author of Artists and Activitists Making Culture in New York's Capital Region.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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