News > Spoleto 2016 Review: Porgy and Bess


By Stacy Huggins | Images by Julia Lynn Photography, courtesy Spoleto Festival USA

There are so many reasons that presenting Porgy and Bess at this particular festival is exceedingly special, and to do it justice, every aspect of the production had to be just right. Spoleto has done honor to the legacy of Porgy, bringing in an outstanding cast, creating a magical world for the opera to take place in through set design and costuming, and gathering the finest musicians to play the beloved songs.

To get the (only slightly) negatives out of the way, the production is quite long, clocking in at three and a half hours, and it is difficult to understand the dialogue through the operatic singing. But it just couldn’t be any other cut any of the songs or plot line would cut the legs out from under the story.


Visual Designer Jonathan Green has outdone himself

Visually immersive, the set design transports us to a Charleston that is quite familiar–and surprisingly bright and shiny. In his novel Porgy, the basis for the opera, DuBose Heyward’s descriptions of Catfish Row painted a picture in my mind of a rundown place filled with downtrodden people. The brightly colored, fashion-forward clothing, the perfection of the homes and its inhabitants, and their considerable joie de vivre was in stark contrast to the world created on the page, but this is an opera. It works.

Jonathan Green’s work as visual designer is impeccable. The world of Porgy and Bess feels like one of his beloved paintings come to life, creating a magical environment that is both real and not real all at once. The costumes and set evolve subtly, with small elements being added periodically; cumulatively, they add up to a rather dramatic transformation from the opening scene to the curtain’s close.

Bess and the men who 'love' her

Bess and the men who ‘love’ her

The Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra is perfection, their sound is exquisite. Aided by the advanced engineering of the Martha and John M. Rivers Performance Hall, these young professional musicians are, while out of sight in the orchestra pit, one of the most important elements of the production.

As a whole, the actors could not have been more perfectly cast. Interestingly enough, Lester Lynch is cast as the title role Porgy, but often plays the rival Crown, and Eric Greene, who plays Crown, first received international acclaim for his role as Jake with companies across Europe and North America. Victor Ryan Robertson absolutely kills it as Sportin’ Life.

Alyson Cambridge brings a range of bravado and humility that befits the role of Bess beautifully. On the arm of Crown, Bess cavorts and acts out, drawing the ire of the godly women in the community. After Crown cruelly murders another member of the Catfish Row community, she implores him to run away and avoid prison, only to find herself left out in the cold, with literally every door closed to her until Porgy opens his. As her anchor in the storm, in so many ways, Porgy embodies the moral strength of character that Bess needs, but does not posses herself.

It's all fun and games until someone brings out the 'happy dust.'

It’s all fun and games until someone brings out the ‘happy dust.’

Serena and Maria, but also notice the incredible costuming.

Serena and Maria, but also notice the incredible patterns and attention to detail of the costuming.

The pious church ladies

The pious church ladies

Sportin' Life tempts Bess with dope. Just say no, Bess! Porgy's your man now!

Sportin’ Life tempts Bess with dope. Just say no, Bess! Porgy’s your man now!

Porgy gets the drop on Crown.

Porgy gets the drop on Crown.

Porgy and Bess, such a beautiful love

Porgy and Bess, such a beautiful love

Created by George Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin
Conducted by Stefan Asbury
Directed by David Herskovits
Visual Design by Jonathan Green

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Posted on May 31, 2016 by admin.

Categories: Performing Arts, Review

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