An Evening at the Met: Porgy and Bess

Casey Beidel:

Porgy & Bess left me in awe when it ended and had me sitting on the edge of my seat. As a theater kid, I’ve seen plenty of shows in New York, and I’ve actually performed in operas before! However, I had never seen a professional opera performance in such a grand space, and I was truly blown away by the sheer amount of talent in the opera house. Even from far up in the audience, I was able to hear and feel the emotions that the performers conveyed through their singing. I resonated heavily with Bess’s struggle and felt every word she sang due to the power and emotion in her voice. Similarly, I thought Porgy’s physicality and characterization were extremely strong– by the end of the piece, I was devastated by the thought that they would not end up together.

I also thought it was interesting that a lot of the concepts I’ve learned about in my history and sociology classes were present within the piece. Of course, race is a key element of the piece, especially when juxtaposed with the white authority figures who enter and exit a world that is completely foreign to them, but act as though they have some sort of inherent power over the citizens. Some of the characters are taken into custody even though they are just witnesses to certain crimes. In my urban American history class, we also talked about the great migration from cities in the South like Charleston to places in the North like New York, which is basically how the opera ends. The story is a tragedy, with death, race, and poverty as key themes throughout. Something that I found interesting is that despite the opera’s large, diverse cast, the opera had sparked controversy within white and African-American circles alike when it was conceived. This stems from the fact that many white folks did not want an opera that centered around black stories, and also the fact that many African-Americans found the story and characters stereotypical. However, the opera now seems to have a lot of respect from a wide variety of performers and audiences, and I was glad to see it put on stage. Gershwin’s music is some of my favorite, so I really loved hearing some of the songs I recognized (“I Got Plenty Of Nothing,” and “Summertime,” for example), in addition to new ones. Overall, I thought the opera was absolutely phenomenal and I am so thankful to the Edwards Collective for getting us there!

Madeleine LeBeau:

This past week, the Edwards Collective travelled to see Porgy and Bess at Lincoln Center. This opera tells the story of an outsider, Bess, who moves in with Porgy after her boyfriend murdered an influential townsperson. Known for its stirring score, Porgy and Bess remains one of the most popular and frequently performed English operas of all time. I greatly enjoyed the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess. The intricate costumes, designed by Catherine Zuber, did a beautiful job highlighting Bess on a crowded stage. Her vibrant, red dresses not only accent her fiery personality, but also help focus the audience’s attention on her actions, even while she is not singing. Additionally, I believe the staging of this show demonstrates the tight-knit community that Bess entered. The audience could sense the close bonds formed between characters, even between those who seldom spoke in the show.

Additionally, travelling to New York to see Porgy and Bess was a wonderful bonding experience with my fellow members of the Collective. I enjoyed discussing opera in comparison to musical theater and analyzing how traditional operatic technique impacts the overall understanding of a piece of theater. As a lover (and frequent performer) of arias, I was interested in hearing these opinions regarding this historic artform. I also appreciated having the opportunity to take a step back from my crazy week and share this production of Porgy and Bess with my Edwards friends.