Porgy and Bess
Eric Owens, Angel Blue, Frederick Ballentine, Alfred Walker, Latonia Moore, Golda Schultz, Ryan Speedo Green, Denyce Graves; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/David Robertson
Met Opera 1000420118 163:00 mins
Gershwin’s only full-length opera is one of the masterpieces of the 20th century and, given the plethora of exceptional black singers available these days, it is rightfully gaining an ever more central position in the repertoire. This is a live recording, taped over two performances at the New York Met in autumn 2019; though neither lavish nor offering a particularly wide range, the sound is sharply defined.
There’s some audience applause at curtain rise and occasionally following individual arias, but the spontaneity of a live event is a clear plus: the chorus supplies precision and refulgent tone, while the orchestral playing is clean and idiomatic, with conductor David Robertson shaping an interpretation that is well-paced and offers both good balance and plenty of fine detail. There are quite a few cuts, however.
As to the large cast, there can be no complaints about the quality of the voices. As Clara, Golda Schultz’s lavish soprano and good diction help her launch the opera with a poised ‘Summertime’. Eric Owens’s grand and enriched baritone helps him convey Porgy’s indomitable spirit in fully three-dimensional form. He’s admirably partnered by Angel Blue, her resplendent soprano soaring aloft as she charts Bess’s emotional complexity.
Alfred Walker is a dominating Crown, Ryan Speedo Green’s Jake combines firm tone with a striking sense of character, while Frederick Ballentine’s worldly, cynical Sportin’ Life is a tour de force.
Latonia Moore is a lucid and highly expressive Serena. Denyce Graves brings strength and determination to her no-nonsense Maria.