Monday, June 10, 2019

The glory that is Gershwin

Say what you like about Porgy and Bess - flawed drama, tricky pacing, etc - but you can't get away from the incredible music George Gershwin wrote for it. After years and years in which there's been nothing of this work on a UK stage, this was my second in about four months: on Saturday I went to review Grange Park Opera's new production for The Arts Desk and loved it to bits. And there is a lot for which to thank Cape Town University's Opera School and Cape Town Opera itself.

Slightly weird acoustic effects in the round theatre that is GPO's latest home - a story much told elsewhere - but the surrounding gardens are almost impossibly gorgeous. And a special shout-out to the cakes in the croquet lawn marquee, which are some of the best gluten-free jobs I've yet encountered.

A less emotionally discomfiting place to see Porgy and Bess than a British country house opera has yet to be invented... but as I've mentioned in the review, if you go, you do know what you're getting into. Just take a deep breath and enjoy the music.

Musa Ngqungwana as Porgy at Grange Park Opera
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
If you go to a British country house opera to see a work about an addict and a cripple in a poverty-stricken Deep South tenement, you do so knowing that the contrast between stage and garden marquee will be extreme. Seeing Gershwin’s Porgy and Bessat Grange Park Opera was never going to be a comfortable experience. But “no use complainin’ ” – it is a splendid show in surroundings that are almost too pretty to be true.   
Porgy and Bess is, at the best of times, an odd, hybrid drama with deep-seated problems of pacing and more. A heartbreaking story (by Edwin DuBose Heyward based on his 1925 novel), with some masterly touches and immortal songs, it never wholly escapes Gershwin’s more usual habitat of Broadway. Jean-Pierre van der Spuy’s production homes in on the conflict of good and evil in the religion-driven community of Catfish Row, virtually battling over the soul of poor Bess...
Read the rest here.