Critical Review – Porgy and Bess
Prof. Katherine Zien ENGL 371
2014 Feb 16
Porgy and Bess Porgy and Bess was a production that I thoroughly enjoyed for various reasons. Firstly, I was delighted to find that I was amused throughout the entire duration of the opera, rather than experiencing the potential boredom that I was anxious to avoid. When it comes to musical productions, I typically look forward to a high-tempo, upbeat production. Since Porgy and Bess was the first opera I would ever attend, and based on my overt insufficient knowledge concerning opera in film and media, I was concerned that I would not be drawn to the long and emotional notes of the show, although I knew I would be able to appreciate the talent and work behind it. I was, however, enthralled by the set, which was phenomenal and easily made up for any lack of interest that the audience could potentially have. The use of the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir was also a great idea; their talent is ineffable and the energy and emotion they brought added to the sincerity of the characters’ triumphs and plights. Personally, the most influential and impactful moments occurred more often when the music was more closely linked to its African-American roots. For example, the singing of “It Take a Long Pull to Get There”, which occurs twice, was reminiscent of an older spiritual I once heard, about a group of men hammering to complete some railroad tracks. They are both call-and-response style spirituals, with a powerfully chanted “Wah!”, or some other sound denoting effort. All this to lead to my one complaint: there should have been more of the Gospel Choir in order to send the more powerful emotions out into the crowd. That being said, less opera and more choir would make the performance less of an opera, so I deem my own recommendation not advisable. Defining the parameters that determine whether or not a selected performance is or is not popular culture would be the first step to categorizing said performance under the banner of either high-brow art or low-brow entertainment, or somewhere in between. Does popular art of to be commercially profitable? According to the amount of filled seats at Porgy and Bess and the theatre, that is certainly a contributing factor to a productions continuity and popularity, but that does not seem to make it any more artful than a piece with no audience. Should it have to belong to the middle class? The demographic of the Place Des Arts theatre goers suggests that this opera had a broad spectrum of age but presented a middle- to upper-class audience (give or take a few dozen broke students).
Opera—as is displayed in the media—is an art form that is preferred by the upper class, but Porgy and Bess “is also considered musical theatre because its creators […] considered it a theatre piece and premiered the work in a Broadway playhouse rather than an opera house.” (Study Guide, 2014) It might be that the emphasis on set and story in Porgy and Bess do in fact make it a hybrid musical theatre and opera production, which would inevitably reach out to a wider audience. Savran writes that Oscar Brockett and Robert Findlay confess that “[musical theatre] represents “the most popular form” of theatre.” (Savran, 2004) I would like to admit that this particular piece of art might be more on the popular side, due to factors such as its accessibility, its ties with musical theatre, but also in part due to its content. Its depiction of a lower-class lifestyle would resonate more thoroughly with a lower or middle-class, more popular audience.
Like Stone and Forrest’s Metamora, Porgy