Porgy and Bess – highlights
Angel Blue, Kevin Short, Lester Lynch, Darrin Scott, Chauncey Packer, Alexandria Crichlow; Morgan State University Choir; Philadelphia Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Pentatone PTC 5186 883 67:01 mins
This highlights edition of Gershwin’s American folk opera formed the second half of the final programme given by the Philadelphia Orchestra in front of a live audience in March 2020, before the American equivalent of lockdown kicked in.
Much of the performance – including the taut and accomplished playing of the Philadelphia musicians, with their refined tone – is excellent. But is Porgy an opera to hear only in highlights? Granted that, as with most popular operas, there are undoubted hit numbers, they nevertheless register here in fragmentary fashion. Only about one third of the score – surely Gershwin’s masterpiece, and arguably the greatest American opera – is performed.
The singing is of high quality throughout – though once again there’s a problem. With its warmth and allure, Angel Blue’s luscious, soaring soprano sends shivers down the spine: but she sings three roles – Bess, Clara and Serena – adding in some choral solos. Every bar she sings is idiomatic, but in opera it’s crucial to have contrasting voices in different roles. Despite his firm bass-baritone and powerful emotional charge, the same applies to Kevin Short’s Crown doubling Jake: the two men could scarcely be less alike.
Lester Lynch’s dramatically and vocally engaged Porgy is extremely moving, Chauncey Packer’s ‘Sportin’ Life’ full of striking character – and with a fine tenor to boot. The Morgan State University Choir offers vigour and potency, but for a full-blown opera premiered on Broadway, Marin Alsop’s conducting needs more punch and a touch more showbiz. The recorded sound feels distant.