Photo: Jared Siskin / PMC
Photo: Jared Siskin / PMC

“There is no such thing as perfection in the performing arts,” announced the Metropolitan Opera’s general manager, Peter Gelb. He was addressing the audience at Monday evening’s gala dinner celebrating the unanimously well-reviewed Porgy and Bess, which opened the fall season. “But I will gladly take tonight’s performance as the second best thing.”

His were sentiments shared by most everyone, especially considering the performance’s polarizing history. Porgy and Bess was born as a novel, written by DuBose Heyward in 1925; the opera rendition of the same name (with a score and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin) has been lauded for welcoming an all-black cast to opera stages around the world, while at the same time condemning them to the deep, segregated South of the fictional Catfish Row of South Carolina. The characters endure poverty and homicide, and the female protagonist, Bess, can’t kick her habit of drugs and abusive men. (But what’s an opera without some melodrama?) Also note that orchestrating the whole affair (the writers, the composers, the conductors, et cetera) is a crew of all white men. Is it a story representing the underrepresented or does it perpetuate outmoded stereotypes? Per the New York Times review by Anthony Tommasini, “All these questions are valid. But they were pushed aside for me in the moment when hearing Gershwin’s masterpiece on Monday, especially in a performance so authoritative and gripping.”

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