“Summertime an’ the livin’ is easy” and extremely enjoyable when one spends a lovely summer evening experiencing the Cape Town Opera’s interpretation of George Gershwin’s opera, “Porgy and Bess” at the Liceu. Friday’s opening night performance was exceptional. Alive, vivacious, colourful and full of talent.
Transporting the opera from 1930’s Charleston, South Carolina to the 1970’s and Soweta, South Africa may seem at first glance a long distance to travel. However, the original opera was written about the Gullah people who are descendants of enslaved Africans taken to the U.S. from the 1700’s onward to work the rice plantations in the Southern U.S. Unfortunately racism, poverty and violence, was far too frequent in the Southern U.S. in the 1930’s as it was during Apartheid in S. Africa in the 1970’s. What both communities share, despite continents apart and decades apart in years, is the basic human conditions and feelings that we all experience- love, loss, laughter, bitter disappointment, friendship and a sense of community.
Listening to The Orquestra Simfònica del Gran Teatre del Liceu performing Gershwin’s combination of blues, jazz and gospel spirituals was inspiring and assisted in bringing out the best in all of the very talented performers. Xolela Sixaba’s deep rich voice conveyed emotion while his acting abilities combined to make his performance one which the audience thoroughly enjoyed. He was rewarded with well-deserved “bravo”s. His portrayal of Porgy, the crippled beggar in love with Bess, was remarkable not only for the chemistry between he and Bess but for his individual solos, including “Oh, I got plenty o’ nuttin’”. I just kept wondering how he could remain on his knees for an entire performance. And keeping in character, he returned to the stage at the end on his knees, not standing until the very end.
The used, abused, weak but still somehow sympathetic character, Bess, performed by Nonhlanhla Yende was a perfect counterpoint to Porgy’s kind hearted optimism. Her vocal talents combined with her acting and dancing abilities showcased a multi-talented and gifted performer.
Miranda Tini added tidbits of humor in her role as Maria, whose concern for Porgy at the end of the opera is exhibited when she and Serena (Arline Jaftha) offer advice to Porgy in an aria expertly performed by the trio of Maria, Serena and Porgy.
Porgy and Bess is considered by some to be the best American opera. Being a lifelong fan of George Gershwin’s music and of this opera, I would have to agree. For me, the opening night performance at the Liceu was perfection,
Porgy and Bess will be performed at the Liceu through July 19th.
See here for information on times and tickets.