Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Praise for Porgy and Bess

Seattle Opera's Porgy and Bess. Philip Newton photo
"Filled with artistic achievement and complex, engaging cultural relevance, Porgy and Bess is one of the best Seattle Opera productions ever." - Seattle Weekly 

"I can pretty much guarantee that you'll never have the opportunity to attend a better production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess than the one now playing at Seattle Opera." - Seattle Gay News 

Elizabeth Llewellyn, Bess. Philip Newton photo
"What a cast! Anyone who harbors doubts that we have a plentitude of African-American opera singers with the pipes and artistry to triumph in leading roles in the world’s great houses would have had their belief challenged by the stunning line-up for Seattle Opera’s opening night production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess." - Bachtrack 

Seattle Opera presents Porgy and Bess. Philip Newton photo
"...anyone self-debating whether to let go of The Cosby Show or Annie Hall can attend this P&B and hear the singers make it, grippingly and magnificently, their own. This production becomes so much more their characters’ story than Gershwin and Heyward’s." - Seattle Weekly 

Edward Graves (Robbins) and Lester Lynch (Crown). Philip Newton photo

"As it did a year ago for Madama Butterfly, Seattle Opera has confronted the problems with Porgy head-on, as an opportunity for audience education. The lobby at McCaw Hall contains a fine display of instructive material, and the Seattle Opera Blog is full of thoughtful, interesting pieces about the history of Porgy and great interviews with African American cast members and other artists and activists (seattleoperablog.com/p/black-voices-in-response-to-porgy-and.html)." - Seattle Gay News 

Alfred Walker (Porgy) and Angel Blue (Bess). Philip Newton photo
"It’s largely due to this stellar cast, and the show’s direction (by Garnett Bruce in a production originally staged by Francesca Zambello), that this “Porgy and Bess” — a co-production with Glimmerglass Festival — rises above the stereotypes." - The Seattle Times 

".. an enthralling evening, one where you can’t take your eyes or ears off the stage, no matter how well you may know its wonderful songs like “Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “My Man’s Gone Now,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” and so many more. It’s a lively, well-knit, colorful and moving story and production, well worth seeing." - City Arts

Jermaine Smith (Sportin' Life), with members of the Porgy and Bess cast. Philip Newton photo
"Jermaine Smith is an instant hit when he comes onto the scene, lighting up the stage and enlivening the scene as the dynamic Sportin’ Life ... Smith has played the role in 15 different productions around the world, and it shows. He knows the music forward and backward and carefully crafts his movements to every staccato and every slithering rhythm, making for a Sportin’ Life you can’t look away from." - The Seattle Times 

"And the chorus and several minor characters such Strawberry Woman (Ibidunni Ojikutu), Crab Man (tenor Ashley Faatoalia), Maria (contralto Judith Skinner) and soprano Brandie Sutton as Clara (who opened the opera with the heartrending “Summertime”) were top-drawer and on their games."  - Oregon Arts Watch

"Not only did Seattle Opera debutante Brandie Sutton cap Clara’s gorgeous 'Summertime' at the opera’s start with a perfectly floated high B, but she artfully darkened her delivery and reined in her vibrato during the aria’s tragic reprise." - Bachtrack 

Derrick Parker (Jake). Philip Newton photo
"Derrick Parker as a charismatic Jake destined to break our hearts and Bernard Holcomb as an adorably quirky Mingo help flesh out the Catfish Row community." - The Seattle Times 

"Lester Lynch was an ideal Crown who mated sneering aggression and naked violence with vibrant voice." Bachtrack 

Mary Elizabeth Williams (Serena). Philip Newton photo
"Much credit for this phenomenon goes to cast members Mary Elizabeth Williams and Judith Skinner, who are aflame as Serena and Maria, the powerful moral consciences of Catfish Row, the South Carolina coastal hamlet where the opera is set." - Seattle Weekly 

"Also adding immensely to the strong feel of community in this production is the chorus, with many of its members from the greater Seattle area, in addition to elsewhere. Rather than the noisy, reactionary bundle of bodies that the chorus has often been reduced to, the chorus here — used to its fullest potential, allowing it to be more than a backdrop — creates a real sense of community." - The Seattle Times 

"One of the wonders of this opera is that although the cast is large, Porgy and Bess is a true ensemble work, in which many members of the chorus have solo moments when they become important characters and then step back into the community at large. In this production, there isn't a weak link. Every singer is worthy of the solos, and the chorus as a whole has a glorious sound. Among the standouts are Judith Skinner as the feisty shopkeeper Maria, Ibidunni Ojikutu as Strawberry Woman, Ashley Faataolia as Crab Man, and Martin Bakari as Peter/Honey Man." - Seattle Gay News 

Seattle Opera presents Porgy and Bess. Philip Newton photo

"[Alfred Walker as Porgy] is calm and unmovable, strong and stable. Walker’s smooth bass-baritone solidifies this stolid Porgy, and it is a joy when he occasionally defies some of the jazzier tones of the music, making a song about gambling (“Roll dem bones”) sound more like a moving spiritual." - The Seattle Times 

“The program at [Phantom of the Opera at Paramount theater] lists the cast, their resumes. Porgy and Bess also has a program, but since Seattle Opera has been on a mission, lately, toward cultural equity and awareness, this program is full of essays, about cast member Mary Elizabeth Williams (who plays Serena, stunningly), about black artists and activists and their complicated and various relationships with the opera, and about 'Breaking Glass'—the public forum that Seattle Opera held before the show. Interacting with nearly any art form entails a weird sort of matrix of intention. You’re constantly trying to parse what’s ironic, say, from what’s earnest, what the artist meant from what a character says. You can do this through context, through history. But theater adds extra layers: There’s the text and music (of one time and place, usually) and then there’s the new staging of it (now), and there’s the way those interact. Theater is unavoidably about the present. And lately Seattle Opera has decided to make that explicit.” - Seattle Met 

Elizabeth Llewellyn (Bess) and Kevin Short (Porgy). Philip Newton photo 
"In the title roles of Porgy and Bess, bass-baritones Alfred Walker and Kevin Short and sopranos Angel Blue and Elizabeth Llewellyn are all superb, singing beautifully and bringing complexity and nuance to the stereotypes of the noble disabled man and the drug-addled loose woman. In my opinion, it really doesn't matter which pairing is featured in the performance you attend, because all four of these singers are so strong and because no other roles are double-cast."  - Seattle Gay News 

"...perhaps most disturbingly, the amoral dope peddler Sportin’ Life is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Jermaine Smith’s serpentine performance gives the show a shot of straight-up musical-comedy pizzazz." - Seattle Weekly 

Angel Blue (Bess) and Jermaine Smith (Sportin' Life). 

"Blue as Bess has a liquid sunshine voice with a warm, controlled timbre. Though she disputes the parallel, Blue has been compared to the mid-century African-American diva Leontyne Price for her charisma, beauty and vibrant voice. You might have heard Blue in Portland Opera’s recent Faust as Marguerite or as Violetta in SO’s 2017 La Traviata. Like her co-star Walker, both to appear at the Metropolitan Opera in the 2018-19 season (she as Musetta in La Boheme, he as the Speaker in The Magic Flute), Blue is a singer on the rise." - Oregon Arts Watch

"The show’s conductor, John DeMain, also led the 1976 Houston Grand Opera staging that brought P&B fully back into the public eye after decades of nips, tucks and neglect, and consequently knows the piece better than anyone alive. His triumph is to make unforgettable Gershwin’s moments of musical genius." - Seattle Weekly 

"This [Porgy and Bess] is a more important event in Seattle musical life (barring maybe a few world premieres and, OK, its Ring) than anything else SO has offered." - Seattle Weekly 

Seattle Opera's Porgy and Bess. Philip Newton photo