Restored ‘Porgy and Bess’ gets test run
By JEFF KAROUB
ANN ARBOR, Mich.
A restored edition of a pioneering, enduring American opera emerges at a time its racial and social themes are as relevant as the era in which it premiered.
The long-in-the-works “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” gets a test-drive today at the University of Michigan en route to a planned, official debut in 2020 by the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
University musicologist Mark Clague says the goal is to deliver on co-lyricist Ira Gershwin’s late-in-life declaration, “We must do right by Porgy.” Among other things, the nearly final draft restores some deleted music as well as an onstage “Orphans’ band,” and dialogue that clarifies Bess chooses to stay with Porgy.
Clague said restoring original elements provides “a deeper artistic engagement” for the 1930s work criticized for cultural appropriation by its white creators but also praised for possessing an activist spirit and affirming humanity. He adds that the opera’s themes of mistreatment by law enforcement and the justice system stubbornly remain part of the black experience.
Surrounding the performance is a multiday symposium designed to provide an overview and context of the work, as well as explore appropriation in popular culture.
Opera Western Reserve will present the opera in its present edition March 9 in Youngstown’s Stambaugh Auditorium.