Wednesday, September 7, 2011
ART's Porgy and Bess is a worthwhile update
Even before the opening, composer Stephen Sondheim wrote a scathing letter to the New York Times, excoriating director Paulus for shortening the Gershwin opera by half an hour and introducing some explanatory text to round out the characters. He was apoplectic that Paulus changed the ending to make it more upbeat.
I love opera, but I didn’t miss the recitative. For my part, the half hour left on the cutting room floor was not missed. The glorious, emotional arias nearly roll one into the other, which is fine with me. The story was told. It established context but didn’t interfere with the music, which, with Porgy and Bess, is why I go.
Ben Brantley of the NY Times called ART’s Porgy an “anxious and confused production” that can’t decide whether it is opera or musical theater. Nor is he happy with the sparse set. But Christopher Akerlind’s lighting design saves the set with numerous dramatic effects and helps advance the story. And, however much of a hodge-podge Brantley apparently felt Porgy and Bess to be, he still said the Audra McDonald “made me understand ‘Porgy and Bess’ in a way I hadn’t before.”
Notwithstanding Sondheim, most of those who have seen the original opera or even the movie of Porgy and Bess will not feel betrayed by the ART production. Many will enjoy it thoroughly for the magnificent music, the emotional impact and the memorable performance of Audra McDonald.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Posted by Margie Arons-Barron