[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 11 November 2006, 15:47 GMT
Press views: Porgy And Bess
Sir Trevor Nunn
Sir Trevor directed Porgy and Bess for Glyndebourne Opera in 1993
A new production of the George and Ira Gershwin musical Porgy and Bess has opened at the Savoy Theatre in London.

Directed by Sir Trevor Nunn, it cost 3m to stage and presents the famous opera as a musical for the first time.

The "folk opera" has been accused of racism almost since its first performance in 1935, so what do London's critics make of the new production?


Porgy and Bess is now more accessible to far more people than it could be when Simon Rattle conducted it at Glyndebourne and Covent Garden.

True, we don't always get the rich orchestral texture of the original.

True, there's an occasional recitative that's diminished by being spoken rather than sung - for instance the terrific flow of insults ("I'd feed yo meat to buzzards and give dem belly aches") that one of the musical's many tough women directs at its sleaziest male.

But Nunn's company brings enormous energy and plenty of class to Ira Gershwin's libretto.

There's so much to admire: music whose originality crosses the decades, lyrics whose articulate simplicity puts our contemporaries to shame, an engrossing tale and an atmosphere to relish and remember.


If Trevor Nunn's lovingly detailed revival proves anything, it is that the work is an intriguing period piece rather than a timeless classic.

Having directed it as an opera in 1986, Nunn now treats it as a musical.

This means book-dialogue replaces recitatives, and the orchestra has about 20 players rather than 50.

The decision seems to me entirely correct. A work that sounded thin-textured at Covent Garden emerges in an intimate theatre, under Gareth Valentine's musical supervision, as melodically ebullient.

It is a pleasure to listen once again to such standards as Summertime, It Ain't Necessarily So, and Bess, You Is My Woman.

I just feel that, compared to a genuinely radical musical about race such as Caroline, Or Change, this is an essentially conservative show.


George Gershwin
Gershwin's original opera production of Porgy and Bess ran to four hours
The show reveals Nunn at his best. In the dirt-poor Catfish Row way down in the Deep South, he creates a seething sense of community, love and loss that is visually virtuosic and overpoweringly moving.

Apparently some now find this pioneering piece of theatre offensive, believing the characters to be stereotyped, and concerned that its portrait of black Americans was written by white men.

That seems to me to miss entirely the love, respect and beauty that is evident in every bar of Gershwin's score, and the humanity of its portrayal of survival.

The music sounds terrific arranged for a pit band rather than an opera orchestra, and the ensemble singing is I think the finest I have heard in the West End.


Everyone is in fantastic voice and the choreography is a delight.

The utterly convincing Clarke Peters as the crippled beggar Porgy, transformed by the love of a not-so-good woman, must surely be nominated for an award.

Nicola Hughes is a voluptuous, tragic Bess, while Cornell John is seductively powerful as her murderous lover Crown.

The problem is the adaptation, which seems to have had trouble accepting that it isn't an opera any more.

We do not see the lovers Porgy and Bess alone together until nearly an hour in.

Only then do we see how powerful their story is and how psychologically rounded they are compared with the romantic leads of less gritty shows.


Trevor Nunn has triumphantly rescued George Gershwin's famous black folk opera... reconceiving it as a musical for the people.

The first-night audience, not all of whom can have had financial or personal investment in Sir Trevor's mighty project, duly rewarded The Gershwins' Porgy And Bess, as it is entitled, with an instant standing ovation.

It is not hard to see why they were so excited.

Sir Trevor's ardent production, in which Nicola Hughes's sultry prostitute Bess is torn between her sexy pimp, her supplier of angel-dust and Clarke Peters' crippled Porgy, works a rare treat for anyone who savours high and low culture smoothly blended.

The jazzy, gospel sound is beautifully modulated and a few lost songs restored. You can actually hear the singers and their words, especially the surprisingly powerful Peters and Hughes.

Some commentators nowadays write off this musical as dated, white, middle-class condescension. I disagree.

Press views: Dirty Dancing
25 Oct 06 |  Entertainment
Press views: Spamalot
17 Oct 06 |  Entertainment
Press views: The Lord of the Rings
24 Mar 06 |  Entertainment

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific