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Subject: Glimmerglass's perfect Porgy & Bess and a 2018 preview (8-13-17)
From: Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 16 Aug 2017 15:41:04 -0400

text/plain (103 lines)

Our last day at Glimmerglass started on Sunday morning with Francesca Zambello presenting a preview of the 2018 season which sounds like yet another winner (we shall be there!):

Barber of Seville was represented by "Dunque io son" featuring Alyssa Martin & Justin Austin with Michael Lewis at the keyboard.

Cunning Little Vixen gave us the premiere of the Forester's aria in an English version written by Kelley Rourke who will compose the English libretto for the opera next season. Nick Davis sang beautifully as Jesse Leong accompanied.

Bernstein will be represented by Trouble in Tahiti as well as West Side Story (a co-production with Houston & Chicago also to be seen in Atlanta and Kansas City) from which we heard the Balcony Scene ("Tonight") from Emily Pogorelc and Joseph Leppec.

The final selection was form the magnificent Silent Night(co-production with Wexford & Atlanta) where we heard Jarrett Porter sing "Je n'ai pas besoin d'une photo." I love this work and am so excited to be able to see it again.

After a superb brunch, we moved into the theater for an amazing performance of Porgy & Bess where we had a scrim/curtain showing an old steamboat in NY harbor, a black face with a white eye and a woman's profile above this with a red slash of paint randomly spread across the upper right. I'm not sure what it meant....

Ms. Zambello greeted us as she always does saying, "if you want to come to the sold out performance of the opera "Scalia/Ginsburg" that evening, please see me with your checkbook!" (more on that in my next posting!).

We settled in for a spectacular afternoon which our son and his best friend declared their favorite work all weekend. Who can blame them.

Porgy Musa Ngqungwana
Bess Talise Trevigne
Crown Norman Garrett
Sportin' Life Frederick Ballentine
Clara Meroe Khalia Adeeb
Jake Justin Austin
Serena Simone Z. Paulwell

Maria Judith Skinner
Mingo Steven D. Myles
Robbins Chaz'men Williams-Ali
Peter Edward Graves
Jim Nicholas Davis

Undertaker Calvin Griffin
Annie Briana Elyse Hunter
Nelson Elliott Paige
Crab Man Chaz'men Williams-Ali
Detective Zachary Owen
Policeman Brent Michael Smith
Coroner Chris Kjolhede
Scipio Piers Shannon
Strawberry Woman Jasmin White
Lily Gabriella H. Sam

Conductor John DeMain
Director Francesca Zambello
Associate Director Garnett Bruce
Choreographer Eric Sean Fogel
Sets Peter J. Davison
Associate Set Designer Charles Quiggin
Costumes Paul Tazewell
Associate Costume Designer Loren Shaw
Lighting Mark McCullough
Sound Joel Morain
Hair & Makeup J. Jared Janas & Dave Bova
Projected Text Kelley Rourke

The set by Peter J. Davison is a smaller version of the same set for the Zambello production which we have had in DC and many folks have seen travelling across the USA. Now that there is a smaller version, I am assuming it will be seen in even more houses!! The two story corrugated steel Catfish Row has sliding metal doors on both rooms at the top and bottom on the left; it has an almost jail cell feel. To the right is a large sliding metal door. There were several super teenagers and younger kids; one little boy was spectacular. The huge crowd filled the stage and the theater as the excellent chorus of young artists really excelled. This is indeed a choral work, and what a treat to have such talent in every role.

Ms. Adeeb's opening "Summertime" melted us all with her super sweet soprano. The costumes were superb down to the electric green pants for Sportin' Life as he intoned "Roll Dem Bones," looking slicker than ever. Mr. Ballentine really gave us a stronger tenor than I can ever recall back in DC this past season as a young artist; he must be doing something right!

My only complaint about this production is still the fact that Porgy only has a crutch and is not without the use of both legs; if so, why can he not join the crowd at the picnic as he is indeed able to be quite mobile?

Ms. Trevigne was sleek and sexy in her red silky slip of a revealing dress.

The opening fight scene and murder had us all on edge and the fight scene was beautifully choreographed. If direction means anything, the work continued with the best of funeral scenes with Robbins laying on a plank (a coffin could not be afforded) and sawhorses. Ms. Paulwell's Serena gave us a killer tour de force "My Man's Gone Now" that will truly be tops in my hearing of this aria.

While Bess starts her solo brilliantly in "Leavin' for the Promised Land," again it's the chorus that shines.

The next scene has the little boy in the fishing boat and our Jake, Mr. Austin, was superb, again with the chorus, in :It Take a Long Pull to Get There." A small cot with mattress is brought forward as a wall lowers to represent Porgy's room and we first hear from Mr. Ngqungwana with an impressive "I Got Plenty of Nuttin'" and I have to say it has been a pleasure to enjoy him gracing the stages here in DC over the years from his first appearance at the Met Auditions. He is publishing a book soon about his wonderful story and it should be a terrific tale.

Add this to Judith Skinner's wonderful Maria, a portrayal that had me thinking she was going to truly circumcise Sportin'Life!

"Buzzard..." is a number I seem to have missed in the past and Mr. Ngqungwana really made it a standout piece that you won't soon forget. His eyes seemed to turn up inside his head in an almost demonic kind of way; truly scary.

When the scene changes to the picnic on Kittiwah Island, we are treated to a very new version for this production with a miniature roller coaster and lighthouse at the very rear and the back open to the sky with a broken down neon TICKETS sign on a building to the right and three large metal piers to the left with letters obviously once spelling KITTIWAH as all we have are T, I and part of a W. 

Sportin' Life now sports electric blue pants with a gold vest and tie over a black shirt for "It Ain't Necessarily So" and Mr. Ballentine sure worked his socks off for an amazing performance of this great aria ending with a giant split saute jump! It was truly a swinging singing tenor.

Back at Catfish Row, I was shocked to see one woman hand a bill (dollar?) to the Strawberry Woman! The Hurricane scene has plastic flapping all over the place and large parts of the metal wall falling in such a manner as to really shake us. Mr. Garrett's Crown shows up a filthy mess with bare chest (Barihunk where are you?) to sing "Red Headed Woman" and I couldn't help wishing his part had even more chunky music, although his characterization and singing were excellent. Once again he is joined by the impressive chorus.

The fight between Porgy and him was superbly handled and Porgy's utterance "Bess, you got a man now...You got Porgy" really moved us all almost to tears.

"There's A Boat That's Leaving Soon" is one of my favorites and here Sportin' Life gave it a beaut of a high note and then went into an almost animalistic purr/growl when he knows he has got Bess. 

The trio "My Bess" gave us Porgy with Serena and Maria and of course ends with that tear jerker of "I'm On My Way" to end this wonderful opera. 

What an amazing four operas we had and there was still Scalia/Ginsburg. An amazing weekend for sure!

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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