Gershwin: Porgy & Bess (1935 version)

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Scott Paulin
It was once a divisive claim, but few today would deny that Porgy and Bess is one of the great American operas, and probably the greatest of them all. However, as Gerhswin scholars have shown -- and as this new recording is the first to put into practice -- the version we're used to hearing isn't exactly the Porgy that was performed in its 1935 New York premiere. Gershwin made several cuts from the published score for that Broadway run most noticeably Porgy's "Buzzard Song", and also a few additions, all of which are ignored in today's "complete" contemporary productions and recordings of the opera. Unparalleled in his musical theater expertise, conductor John Mauceri ...
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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Scott Paulin
It was once a divisive claim, but few today would deny that Porgy and Bess is one of the great American operas, and probably the greatest of them all. However, as Gerhswin scholars have shown -- and as this new recording is the first to put into practice -- the version we're used to hearing isn't exactly the Porgy that was performed in its 1935 New York premiere. Gershwin made several cuts from the published score for that Broadway run most noticeably Porgy's "Buzzard Song", and also a few additions, all of which are ignored in today's "complete" contemporary productions and recordings of the opera. Unparalleled in his musical theater expertise, conductor John Mauceri courts some controversy by re-creating this "original" -- a Porgy that fits on two CDs instead of the usual three. Will listeners prefer the more streamlined drama of this version, or would they rather hear as much as possible of Gershwin's inspired music? The questions would be moot if the performance captured here weren't so successful. Of course it's intriguing to hear the unfamiliar passages: an onstage band leading the cast to the Act II picnic, and the "Occupational humoresque" introducing the final scene -- a "symphony of sounds" first devised by director Rouben Mamoulian for the original, non-musical stage play of Porgy. But it's the strong performances that distinguish this recording: Alvy Powell, a longtime veteran in the role of Porgy, is a powerful presence, projecting warmth and rock-solid strength, while Marquita Lister offers a believable portrait of the troubled Bess. From Nicole Cabell as Clara, sweetly soulful in the opera's signature tune, "Summertime," to Robert Mack as the deviously captivating Sportin' Life, and throughout the large cast, the singers create a convincing ensemble portrait of Gershwin's Catfish Row. Mauceri prompts the Nashville Symphony -- whose credentials in American repertoire have been well established by their recent recordings for Naxos -- in a vigorous performance where all the jazz, ragtime, and blues elements sound completely natural and honest. In other words, whatever its relation to the composer's original intentions, it's as authentic as can be to Gershwin's spirit.
All Music Guide - James Manheim
This two-disc "Porgy and Bess" records not an entirely new version of the Gershwin opera, but a claimed improvement on the "complete" version that surfaced in the 1970s and changed the opera from a series of set pieces to a living work of drama. Using notations made on the original orchestral parts, conductor John Mauceri and a team of researchers have reconstructed "Porgy and Bess" as it was heard on the occasion of its New York premiere in 1935. The work as Gershwin originally wrote it, and as it had been performed in Boston previews, ran for nearly three and a half hours, and Gershwin made 45 minutes of cuts during the New York rehearsals. Thus, the producers argue, this was what might be called the "composer's cut" of the opera -- Gershwin's best intention for how it should sound. One motivation for the cuts, however, was to let suburban patrons make the last trains north out of Manhattan, which departed at midnight. It's a shame to lose the "Buzzard Song," which fills out Porgy's knowing pessimism and paves the way for the opera's denouement. Numerous small details were also changed; "Summertime" is a bit faster than it is usually taken; the introductory music of Act One is a bit slower; more crowd noise and interjections were added. Gershwin also made two substantial additions: separate music for an orphans' band that plays during the island picnic, and a symphony of morning noises Gershwin calls an "occupational humoresque." It's great to hear these for the first time; they add to the Charleston atmosphere, and they further strengthen the impression of "Porgy and Bess" as a deep attempt on Gershwin's part to reproduce a wide swath of African-American musical culture, not a set of Broadway tunes warmed over with a few spirituals. Future productions of "Porgy and Bess" will have to take this recording into account, and it may well be that some of them will land between the version of the work presented here and the "complete" version mounted by the Houston Grand Opera and other groups. Version issues aside, the opera is wonderfully sung by some of the genre's top African-American artists. Especially impressive are the three male leads: Alvy Powell as a profound Porgy who moves seamlessly from involvement in the Catfish Row neighborhood group to solitude; Robert Mack as a very contemporary Sporting Life, who seems to come up to the edge of hip-hop attitude and to convince you that Gershwin would have loved contemporary African-American music; and Lester Lynch as a Crown who seems more desperate man than thug. In spite of the recording's aims of historical authenticity, the singers have modernized the work in an important and desirable way -- they have very subtly shaved the rough edges off DuBose Heyward's dated black dialect and made the language sound less archaic. After all, for Gershwin's audiences it was not meant to sound that way. Mauceri and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra keep the magnificent recitative ensembles moving along. They find many small ways of making the opera "flow," some of them no doubt due to Gershwin's last-minute changes as incorporated into this new version. The bottom line is that people who like "Porgy and Bess" should hear this very fine recording, regardless of whether they accept the changes the producers have made to the established conceptions of the work
Gramophone - Patrick O'Connor
Mauceri's take on the opera has a good deal going for it. He encourages a really raunchy performance from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.... Alvy Powell and Marquita Lister in the title roles are both convincing.
Time Out New York - Daniel Felsenfeld
The results are not only a crucial documentation, but a thoughtful, theatrical realization of what is arguably the Great American Opera.... A vivid, vital recreation.

Mauceri's take on the opera has a good deal going for it. He encourages a really raunchy performance from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.... Alvy Powell and Marquita Lister in the title roles are both convincing.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 9/12/2006
  • Label: Decca
  • UPC: 028947578772
  • Catalog Number: 000743102

Tracks

Disc 1
  1. 1–49 Porgy and Bess, opera - George Gershwin & Ira Gershwin (144:38)
    Composed byGeorge Gershwin
    Conducted byJohn Mauceri
    Performed byJohn Mauceri, Hazel Somerville, Marquita Lister, Nashville Symphony, Nashville Symphony Chorus, Nicole Cabell, Paul Bracy, Uzee Brown Jr., Barron Coleman, Jeremiah Cooper, Richard Daniel, Tamina Harris, Bart LeFan, Calvin Lee, Lester Lynch, Robert Mack, George Malory, Monique McDonald, Members of the Blair Children's Chorus, Members of the Tennessee State University Band, Justin Lee Miller, Desmond Mouton, Chauncey Packer, Alvy Powell, Leonard Rowe, Talmage M. Watts, Tiffany Nicole Wharton, Linda Thompson Williams, Vanessa Jackson
    1. 1Act 1. Scene 1. Introduction
    2. 2Act 1. Scene 1. Summertime
    3. 3Act 1. Scene 1. Seems like these bones don't give me nothin' but boxcars tonight
    4. 4Act 1. Scene 1. Summertime
    5. 5Act 1. Scene 1. What, that chile ain't asleep yet?... A woman is a sometime thing (Lissen to yo' da
    6. 6Act 1. Scene 1. Honey man! Honey man! Here come de honey man
    7. 7Act 1. Scene 1. They pass by singin' (No, no, brudder, Porgy ain't sof on no woman)
    8. 8Act 1. Scene 1. Here comes Big Boy!
    9. 9Act 1. Scene 1. Crown cock-eyed drunk... Oh, little stars
    10. 10Act 1. Scene 1. Oh, stop them! Don't let them fight!
    11. 11Act 1. Scene 1. Wake up an' hit it out. You ain't got no time to lose
    12. 12Act 1. Scene 2. Gone, gone, gone (Where is brudder Robbins?)... Overflow
    13. 13Act 1. Scene 2. Um! A saucer-buryin' setup, I see
    14. 14Act 1. Scene 2. My man's gone now
    15. 15Act 1. Scene 2. How de saucer stan' now, my sister?
    16. 16Act 1. Scene 2. Leavin' for the Promise' Lan' (Oh, the train is at the station)
    17. 17Act 2. Scene 1. It take a long pull to get there (Oh, I'm a-goin' out to the Blackfish banks)
    18. 18Act 2. Scene 1. Oh, I got plenty o' nuttin'
    19. 19Act 2. Scene 1. Mornin' lawyer, lookin' for somebody?
    20. 20Act 2. Scene 1. Dey's a Buckra comin'
    21. 21Act 2. Scene 1. 'Lo, Bess, goin' to de picnic?
    22. 22Act 2. Scene 1. Bess, you is my woman now
    23. 23Act 2. Scene 1. Oh, I can't sit down
    24. 24Act 2. Scene 2. Allegretto barbaro / Ha da da, ha da da
    25. 25Act 2. Scene 2. It ain't necessarily so
    26. 26Act 2. Scene 2. Crown! - You know very well dis Crown
    27. 27Act 2. Scene 2. Oh... What you want wid Bess?
    28. 28Act 2. Scene 3. Honey, dat's all de breakfast I got time for
    29. 29Act 2. Scene 3. Well, if it ain' ole Peter!
    30. 30Act 2. Scene 3. Oh, Doctor Jesus
    31. 31Act 2. Scene 3. Oh dey's so fresh an fine... I'm talkin' about devil crabs
    32. 32Act 2. Scene 3. Porgy, Porgy, dat you there, ain' it?
    33. 33Act 2. Scene 3. I loves you, Porgy
    34. 34Act 2. Scene 3. Why you been out on that wharf so long, Clara?
    35. 35Act 2. Scene 3. Storm
    36. 36Act 2. Scene 4. Oh, de Lawd shake de Heavens
    37. 37Act 2. Scene 4. One of dese mornin's... Oh, dere's somebody knockin' at de do'
    38. 38Act 2. Scene 4. You is a nice parcel of Christians
    39. 39Act 2. Scene 4. A red-headed woman
    40. 40Act 2. Scene 4. Jake's boat in de river, upside down!
    41. 41Act 3. Scene 1. Clara, Clara, don't you be downhearted
    42. 42Act 3. Scene 1. Ha ha ha
    43. 43Act 3. Scene 1. Summertime
    44. 44Act 3. Scene 2. Introduction / Wait for us at the corner, Al
    45. 45Act 3. Scene 2. Listen: There's a boat dat's leavin' soon for New York
    46. 46Act 3. Scene 3. Occupational humoresque / Good mornin'
    47. 47Act 3. Scene 3. It's Porgy comin' home
    48. 48Act 3. Scene 3. Oh, Bess, oh where's my Bess
    49. 49Act 3. Scene 3. Where Bess gone?... Oh Lawd, I'm on my way
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Album Credits

Performance Credits
John Mauceri Primary Artist
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2011

    A very important recording.

    This recording is revelatory and important because it is the version that opened on Broadway in 1935 under the supervision of the original creators. Mauceri used the original Broadway parts and scores (and cuts and changes therein) to restore this version - which have always been available. Apparently, no other conductor ever cared to consult them - most companies have always performed the complete, unedited version, assuming that it was the "correct" version, and that "longer is best" (which is common, if not wise, in the opera world). However, the full, engraved, published score to PORGY AND BESS was published BEFORE the show opened in Boston. Therefore, what opera companies have been performing for decades isn't neccesarily the "finished" or "best" or "urtext" version- it is the first draft of the show before it went into rehearsal. It's unrealistic to think that the Gershwins, who had never composed an opera before, would have thought that their first draft was perfect. This recording reflects the changes they made to the show after seeing it in front of live audiences during the pre-Broadway tryout in Boston. It is this stageworthy, streamlined theatrical version that the original creators signed off on for Broadway. It's true that Ira Gershwin was alive and allowed the unedited version to become the standard version for decades, but it's interesting to think how George, had he lived longer, would have edited the work. At least we have both versions to consider now.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    A Mauceri Porgy And Bess

    Following in the tradition of his recordings of STREET SCENE and REGINA, the John Mauceri recording of PORGY AND BESS, alas, underwhelms. The people involved state this as the PORGY Gershwin wanted. I would say rather that it's the PORGY Gershwin realistically settled for. The use of subsequent changes in the libretto and lyrics for certain offensive words alone calls into question the historical accuracy of this "1935 version". One has to wonder what other unspoken compromises have been made. Further statements in the notes for this recording have a scent of self-congratulation and self-justification rather than musical scholarship, at the expense of Gershwin's full, original version. One glaring statement involves Act III's "Occupational Humoresque", stating this recording captures its first performance since 1938, ignoring the fact that the effect was heard in the 1959 film and its soundtrack album. As for the recording itself, no one will accuse it of mimicking Maazel's "conservatory" approach. Mauceri isn't that careful. He allows his soloists a wide berth, to the point where at times they're not with the orchestra at all. At times, its just sloppy. The one good thing this abridged version does is bring into proper perspective the musical and dramatic cohesiveness and magnitude of Gershwin's full score as we have thankfully known it for the last thirty years. In short, this recording is not recommended- a wasted opportunity for an American masterwork. For the original complete score that Gershwin composed and orchestrated, I would go with the Houston Grand Opera recording, not the Glyndebourne. And a better two-disc (slightly abridged) recording on Sony or Naxos(UK) conducted by Lehman Engel in 1951 is a personal favorite.

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