- Porgy and Bess, opera
At its premiere in 1935, Porgy and Bess was too jazzy for the longhairs and too symphonic for the Broadway crowd. Duke Ellington was one of many who criticized its "lampblack Negroisms." However it remains the most successful opera by an American composer, and Gershwin's stipulation that it be performed only by African Americans has ended up launching many a career. The opera is Gershwin's masterpiece. He carefully researched the setting, spending a month in Charleston, South Carolina, absorbing the different musical idioms of Catfish Row and Folly Island, thereby insuring a degree of authenticity remarkable for the 1930s. Based on Dubose Heyward's tale of the crippled Porgy's love for Bess, who is beholden first to the rough stevedore Crown and later to the sly drug dealer Sportin' Life, Gershwin created a true folk opera, weaving a succession of great, memorable tunes through a unified symphonic structure tinged with bluesy harmonies and syncopated rhythms. The EMI recording captures Porgy's roots in grand opera better than any other, without sacrificing any of its jazziness. With a committed cast and outstanding sound, this is a Porgy for the ages.