- Porgy and Bess, opera
This live recording, made in Berlin, documents the hugely successful 1952 revival of "Porgy and Bess" that toured the U.S. and numerous European cities. Although the production restored music that had been omitted from the work's previous performances, this version still contains almost an hour less music than the most "complete" modern recordings. In spite of that caveat, and the fact that this version uses a reduced orchestration, this gripping performance should be a cause for rejoicing for anyone who loves the opera. Conducted by Alexander Smallens, who led the opera's premiere under the composer's supervision, this version is a direct link to Gershwin's interpretive intentions for the music, and it's a compelling reading, driving and propulsive, but organically fluid. A great deal of credit goes to Robert Breen for the vitality of his naturalistic direction. The opening scene, for example, is a vibrant portrait of life on Catfish Row, full of chaotic talking, shouting, improvised singing, and drumming that continues throughout the whole scene, subsiding only when the drama demands it, as in the shocked silence that follows Robbins' murder and for the showcase musical numbers like "Summertime," and "A woman is a sometime thing." The realism of the approach brings the community fully to life and makes for an astonishing musical and dramatic experience, unlike anything one is likely to encounter in an opera house. The soloists are fabulous and their vivid characterizations are immediately engaging. Cab Calloway was a legendary Sportin' Life, and the originality and eccentricity of this performance fully validates his reputation. William Warfield's Porgy is intensely humane and honest, and he sings with warmth and without any affectation. Leontyne Price was only 25 when the recording was made, and Bess was her breakthrough role; while she doesn't have the dramatic presence of the other leads, she sings with thrilling fullness and passion. The noise level of the recording is initially distracting, but as the magic of the performance takes hold, it becomes less of an issue.