>porgy and bess by peter klein and living arts
>reviewed by jeremy samuel
28 nov 2001
You know you're in the presence of High Culture when: you're asked to rise just before the curtain for the arrival of President S.R. Nathan; the objective of the performance is not primarily artistic but to 'raise $400,000 for the Firm's Youth-at-Risk Community Programme'; the women in the audience are wearing enough pashminas to clothe one of the smaller third-world countries.
The 'Firm' in question, if you were wondering, was PricewaterhouseCoopers (upper case 'P' and 'C', lower case 'w', according to an insistent footnote in the press release), and I really shouldn't be complaining since they were nice enough to provide a (curiously alcohol-free) reception beforehand. But it can be dispiriting when a production becomes so much of an Event, heavy and leaden with furbelows.
You probably know the background: a jazz opera, premiered in 1935 and now one of the best known works of George Gershwin, a prodigious composer who was dead before his fourtieth birthday -- based on the novel 'Porgy' by DuBose Heyward, the well-regarded black novelist of South Carolina. You've certainly heard the songs: 'Summertime', 'I Got Plenty of Nuttin'', 'I Loves You Porgy'.So, yes. Plenty of cultural expectations raised, and for the most part they are met. The singing is gorgeous, if at times poorly transmitted, and the music vintage Gershwin (beautiful, heavy on the brass). The set consists of huge pieces descending from the flies, and is effective if rather perfunctionary.
musical credentials are not in doubt, the performers are more uneven in
their acting ability. Brian Gibson has a commanding stage presence as
the cripple Porgy, considering he spends the entire show literally on
his knees, but has a limited emotional range. He has little chemistry
with Jerris Cates, whose Bess seems constrained as the reformed 'liquor
guzzlin' slut' in love with Porgy, but really comes into her own after
backsliding and reverting to whiskey-soaked floozy.
>>'The singing is gorgeous, if at times poorly transmitted... A lot of this is probably the fault of the Kallang Theatre, which is roughly the size of an aircraft hangar and has acoustics to match.'
something amiss, though, when a show that's been touring the world for
eight years has trouble with its technical aspects. A lot of this is probably
the fault of the Kallang Theatre, which is roughly the size of an aircraft
hangar and has acoustics to match. A lot of the words were lost, which
is a problem in an operatic performance, even if the programme did helpfully
reproduce the full libretto. The lighting didn't fare much better, with
follow spots that swooped across the stage apparently free of human agency,
only occasionally landing on the performers they were meant to illuminate;
and a hurricane scene featured the most unconvincing stage lightning it
has been my good fortune to witness.
PORGY AND BESS is worth seeing if you have $80 or so to spare -- it's
unlikely another production will be to Singapore anytime soon, and it's
nice to see familiar songs in their proper context. But anyone hoping
to see the 'folk opera' bursting with life and energy that's clearly trying
to get out from behind this too-polished (yet technically inadequate)
production, will be disappointed.