Spain Gershwin: Porgy and Bess, Teatro Real orchestra, Cape Town Opera Chorus, Tim Murray (conductor), Madrid Teatro Real, 12.6.2015 (JMI)
Porgy: Lindile Kenneth Kula
Bess: Philisa Sibeko
Crown: Mandla Mndebele
Clara: Siphamandla Yakupa
Serena: Arline Jaftha
Maria: Fikile Mthetwa
Sportin’Life: Lukhanyo Moyake
Jake: Aubrey Lodewyk
Cape Town Opera
Direction: Christine Crouse
Sets and Costumes: Michael Mitchell
Lighting: Kobus Rossouw
Choreography: Sibonakaliso Ndaba
It has not been easy for this George Gershwin opera to gain a place in the repertoire since its premiere in Boston 80 years ago now. In recent times it is been more frequent for this opera to appear in the programs of the opera houses, often with touring companies. That was what happened the last time we could see Porgy and Bess in Spain. It took place in 2007 on a tour of the New York Harlem Theatre. As far as Teatro Real is concerned, it was only performed in the first season of its reopening 18 years ago with Sir Willard White in the title role.
Also this time the production comes almost completely from abroad, with the only local collaboration of the Orchestra of Teatro Real. The production comes from Cape Town and works good, although I missed more important soloists in the cast.
The stage production by Christine Crouse is well suited from a pure aesthetic point of view, with very simple sets, offering one stage for the three acts, with an open space in front, closed by an iron gate at the bottom and small houses at the side figuring Catfish Row. The action is moved to South Africa at times of the apartheid and it has simple and appropriate costumes. Definitely the best part of the production is the stage direction, achieving an excellent work form the choristers (around 30), becoming each of them an individual character, who not only sing, but also dance and give a great life to the scene, very well served by the excellent choreography. The stage direction is brighter with the masses than with the soloists.
The musical direction was in the hands of Tim Murray, whose work can be seen as efficient, if not particularly bright. Obviously, the production comes very well rehearsed, but there is some excess of orchestra sound sometimes. His conducting was not particularly inspired, but everything was in its right place and there were no accidents. The Teatro Real orchestra was at their usual excellent level. The Choir of Cape Town Opera was the real star of the opera.
These performances of Porgy and Bess had two different casts, formed by singers totally unknown in Europe, resulting better as ensemble than individuals. In the performance I attended there was the second cast, which I found well below what I expected, if one has to believe the reviews of the premiere. of course with a different cast.
The best voice in the cast belonged to Lindile Kenneth Lindile Kula, who gave a remarkable performance of Porgy in every aspect. The voice is lighter than usual in the character, but fully convincing.
Philisa Sibeko was Bess with a not very attractive voice, tight at the top and easy on stage. I must say that her performance in the third act of the more than famous Summertime was less convincing to me that what Siphamandla Yakupa did in the first act as Clara. Arline Jaftha did well in the part of Serena, with a rather modest voice. Good performance from baritone Mandla Mndebele as Crown. Lukhanyo Moyake was good in the part of Sportin ‘Life, although it is not easy to fight with the memory of the stage performance of Jermaine Smith in this role in the 2007 tour. Baritone Aubrey Lodewyk was a rather modest Jake in vocal terms. Finally, Fikile Mthetwa played the part of Maria and she was better as actress than singer.
The rest of the supporting cast were very successfully played by choir members and among them I should mention Linda Nteleza (Strawberries seller) and Monwabisi Lindi (Crabs seller). Not that they were better than their colleagues, but their brief interventions were more important.
José M. Irurzun