A Mostly-White PORGY AND BESS Stirs Up Controversy in Hungary

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A Mostly-White PORGY AND BESS Stirs Up Controversy in Hungary

One would assume that any company of Porgy and Bess, a 1935 folk opera set in an African American tenement in Charleston, South Carolina, would be made up of a black cast. It ain't necessarily so...

According to the New York Times, the Hungarian State Opera's current production of the musical is stirring up controversy for its casting of mostly white actors in a version of the musical that is intended to be taken "out of context."

HSO general director Szilvester Okovacs claims that their contract with Tams-Witmark did not include casting guidelines. "We have the contract and it is without this language," said Okovacs.

Porgy and Bess director Andras Almasi-Toth explained, "while performance and staging solutions have progressed - we play, sing and stage Puccini differently from 50 years ago - this opera was left out, which makes for a very sterile production. It can only take place on Catfish Row in the 1930s, which gives it a fairy-tale like quality, devoid of its real-life aspects."

Audra McDonald sings from the 2012 Broadway revival below:

Porgy and Bess is an English-language opera by the American composer George Gershwin, with a libretto written by author DuBose Heyward and lyricist Ira Gershwin. It was adapted from Dorothy Heyward and DuBose Heyward's play Porgy, itself an adaptation of DuBose Heyward's 1925 novel of the same name.

Porgy and Bess was first performed in Boston on September 30, 1935, before it moved to Broadway in New York City. It featured a cast of classically trained African-American singers-a daring artistic choice at the time.

The libretto of Porgy and Bess tells the story of Porgy, a disabled black street-beggar living in the slums of Charleston. It deals with his attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin' Life, her drug dealer.

Photo Credit: Attila Nagy/Péter Rákossy

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