It is an early winter evening.
Thru a veil of snow everything in Hell’s Kitchen, New York feels out of time. A horse and carriage enthusiastically prances by to call it a day, then vanishes into a gauze of snow. The staff in the Starbucks where I write in the mornings sweep up grey shadows in yellow light. I brace against the wind. By time I reach the Met I have a dusting of snow on my coat. The electric lights there thrust me back into the present and I find the excitement of the crowd lining up utterly palpable. Eric Owens, Golda Shultz, and Angel Blue singing! I’m excited too.
It’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at the Met, with a refreshingly young and diverse crowd. My ticket is for family circle standing, and while I really don’t like seat jumpers, just before the curtain rises, I see an empty one at the end of the center isle, and I steal into the comfort.
I write this working from my old journal and playbill. It is eight weeks into the coronavirus shut-down now, and I feel shook. Protesters in Washington D.C. are met with rubber bullets and tear gas and the news is full of images of cars and buildings burning in cities across the country. The protests begin after a man named George Floyd dies while a police officer holds him to the ground with his knee on his neck for over eight minutes. The video is impossible to unsee, and a population screams “this is not an isolated incident, see us.”
I recall my night at Porgy and Bess.
There is a scene when a character returns from jail and says, “the white man locked me up and the white man set me free; with no reason for either.” It isn’t the truth of what the character says that I feel, but the reaction of the audience. A knowing chuckle runs through the largely African American audience. It helps me hear. My own experience in America has not been everyones. As an educator I can’t help but think about my own role in this conversation, what it has been, and what it should be.
Porgy and Bess at the Met is a big deal!
It starts with mallets on the xylophone. My music authority Rob tells me his roommate in college used to practice this part all the time. Tonight I can hear the xylophonist rehearsing it before the opera begins while I look for a seat upgrade.
After the overture of sweeping and jazzy horns, comes the descending humidity of ‘Summertime!’ Golda Schultz is Ethereal. “Summmmmertiiiiiime, and the livings easy…” Gershwin!? Talk about soundtracking a setting. you know when somethings so sumptuous you salivate and shake your head. Angel Blue is a stable pillar against Eric Owens weighty baritone. She plays the contradictions through her voice till it hurts my heart. Crown and Sportin Life play perfect over-the-top foils to the earthly warmth of Porgy and other characters.
The James Robinson production is big as the story and takes me back to my first opera seeing La Boheme. #56 feels just as fresh and transformative to me as #1
So what’s Porgy and Bess all about? has one of the most likable characters in the opera catalogue in Porgy. He is a generous, reliable, and a positively optimistic man; and, he loves the heck out of a woman named Bess. Of course, he is not the only one with his eye on her. Through murder, betrayal, lies, and a deadly storm Porgy will have his loyalty and manliness challenged but will remain unflinchingly ‘Bess’s Man.’
Notes on the production
Composer………………….. George Gershwin
Porgy………………………….. Eric Owens
Bess…………………………… Agel Blue
Clara…………………..……… Golda Schultz
Crown…………………..……. Alfred Walker
Sportin’ lIfe………………… Frederick Ballentine
Conductor…………………. David Robertson
The Metropolitan Opera