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'Porgy and Bess' revival marks 70th birthday

October 29, 2005|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — For the first time since it was formed 50 years ago, the Washington National Opera will open a new production of George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" on Saturday, celebrating the 70th anniversary of one of the most successful American works.

A Sunday matinee of the show at the Kennedy Center on Nov. 6 will be open to the public on an 18-by-32-foot screen on the National Mall near the Capitol. Six days later, National Public Radio will transmit the show -- its first live broadcast of an opera performance -- to more than 100 stations in the United States and on NPR's audio Web cast. In December, 26 European radio networks will carry it.

Few operas are built around anything as American as an Atlantic hurricane. In a climactic scene, most of the cast gathers in a room and prays for protection from the storm as Crown, Bess' former lover, tries to take her back from Porgy. She refuses, and Porgy kills him in a fight -- only to lose her to Sportin' Life, who takes her to New York.

Francesca Zambello, an American who grew up in Europe, will direct a cast that includes London-born Nigerian soprano Morenike Fadayomi. She alternates in the role of Bess with Indira Mahajan, daughter of an African American mother and a father from India's Punjabi region.

Gordon Hawkins and Kevin Short share the part of Porgy. Both are Americans with a wide range of experience in European opera. Short, a bass baritone, has appeared in more than 20 operas at the Metropolitan in New York.

Britain's Wayne Marshall, who specializes in 20th century American composers, will conduct the 58-piece orchestra, including a banjo and jazz pianist.

The Kennedy Center Opera House has scheduled 10 performances through Nov. 19, with ticket prices ranging from $10 for a child at a one-hour "look-in" for families on Nov. 5, to $290 for box seats at evening performances.

First produced in New York in 1935, "Porgy and Bess" was less than a success even though it ran for 124 performances on Broadway. In 1976, when the Houston Grand Opera put on Gershwin's original score, critics began to accept it as a masterpiece.

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