Yesterday evening chorus director Ian Robertson moderated a panel discussion on Porgy and Bess, which opens next Tuesday at San Francisco Opera. The panelists included choreographer Denni Sayers, soprano Angel Blue (Clara), soprano Karen Slack (Serena), baritone Kenneth Overton (Frazier), tenor Calvin Lee (Peter), baritone Eric Greene (Jake), tenor Chauncey Packer (Sportin' Life), bass-baritone Eric Owens (Porgy), and conductor John DeMain.
The panelists were asked to speak about the piece, their roles with in it, and the like. It was interesting to learn where the performers had sung before and how they felt about George Gershwin, authenticity, and the possible demeaning nature of the work. The cast seemed to have a strong commitment to this opera.
Maestro DeMain had much to say about Porgy and Bess, unsurprising given that he has been conducting the work for over thirty years. He compared this opera to Boris Godunov, as it too is a "folk opera," and Carmen, as both have dance rhythms throughout. DeMain also mentioned that Porgy and Bess is both a numbers opera and makes use of Leitmotivs.
The production was described by the choreographer, as she has worked on it since the beginning, with the Washington premiere. The stage director, Francesca Zambello, is concerned, once again, with making the work relevant to the contemporary audience. In this case, she has set the work in 1955, bringing us closer in time to the characters.
There were a few amusing moments during the evening. Chauncey Packer spoke about how after a performance someone told him "It's horrible what you did to that girl!" At another point Angel Blue explained that she could imagine singing Bess, as she had nothing in common with the character, to which someone on stage quipped "Not yet."