Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In On PORGY AND BESS at The Metropolitan Opera

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Porgy and Bess just recently began performances at the Metropolitan Opera.

One of America's favorite operas returns to the Met for the first time in nearly 30 years. James Robinson's stylish production transports audiences to Catfish Row on the Charleston waterfront, vibrant with the music, dancing, emotion, and heartbreak of its inhabitants. "If you're going to stage Gershwin's opera, this is how," raved the Guardian when the new production premiered in London in 2018. David Robertson conducts a dynamic cast, featuring the sympathetic duo of Eric Owens and Angel Blue in the title roles and an all-star ensemble that includes Golda Schultz, Latonia Moore, Denyce Graves, Frederick Ballentine, Alfred Walker, and Ryan Speedo Green.

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What did the critics have to say?

Anthony Tommasini, NY Times: James Robinson's production, with sets by Michael Yeargan and costumes by Catherine Zuber - introduced at the English National Opera in London last year - is realistic, with atmospheric touches. The staging's centerpiece is a rotating set that suggests the bare wood framing of a rundown aristocratic mansion that has become a shared dwelling for the residents of Catfish Row. Its inhabitants are presented here like a community of oppressed but aspiring people, raising families and praying for the Promised Land, though even the working men with families can't resist the lure of gambling.

James Jorden, Observer: Sadly, the weakest link through most of the night was the musical aspect, from the hacked-up version of the score to David Robertson's pedantic conducting. Most of the show seemed to crawl in slow motion until the transcendent final scene where Porgy and the chorus sing "Oh Lawd, I'm On My Way." Here Robertson suddenly pushed the pedal to the metal and the hapless Owens vanished before we could grasp the magnificent folly of this quest to find Bess.

David Salazar, Opera Wire: The chorus for the opera was simply otherworldly throughout the evening, as was the orchestra under the direction of David Robertson. The music had a forward-moving energy throughout, though there was a sense of metronomic rigidity throughout the performance. Nonetheless, Robertson managed to blend the orchestra well with the soloists, doubling their melodies in the solo numbers effectively. Moreover, the singers themselves were given greater interpretative bandwidth with some of the solo numbers as well.

Anne Midgette, Washington Post: Eric Owens and Angel Blue, at the heart of all this, were a respectable Porgy and Bess - almost too respectable. Owens has taken on Porgy a number of times in his career, despite the fact that the role lies a little high for his deep bass-baritone voice. He is singing very well these days, but the higher phrases still do not ring out in his voice the way they are meant to; "I got plenty o' nuttin' " was one aria that slightly paled because of that. He was an earnest, stalwart lover to Blue's vulnerable Bess. Tall and imposing, Blue played a character so wounded and so fundamentally decent that her addictions (to drugs, to men) were a little hard to credit; this was a Bess without bad-girl fire, although pouring out great arcs of sound.

Christopher Corwin, Parterre: But James Robinson's fluent and vivid production abetted by Michael Yeargan's agile revolving unit set helped the time pass pretty painlessly. Despite many memorable individual performers, a number of whom were making their Met debuts, the greatest impression was made by the spectacular special Porgy and Bess chorus who so movingly embodied the inhabitants of Catfish Row, South Carolina. To my surprise more than once during the evening I thought of Peter Grimes. Like the Britten work, Porgy is dominated by its insular close-knit community and eventually that group assumes an importance that surpasses that of its titular characters.

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