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on August 19, 2012
I haven't read all of the other reviews, but I share the views of those who find this recording not only disappointing but also distressing. I will assume that the producers of this "revival" had good intentions - possibly trying to bring this brilliant classic to the masses - but they've done so by dumbing it down. First, they've eliminated the Gershwins' orchestrations and in some cases even their rhythms; for example, they've replaced the lush orchestration and beguine-like rhythms of "Bess, You Is My Woman..." and replaced it with a flimsy fox trot. They've also made bad casting choices. I mean no insult when I say that Norm Lewis has a Broadway voice; for Broadway it's a fine voice. However, it's not adequate for the grandeur of this role. Similarly, the Crown - he's not listed on the cover, but having listened to good recordings of this opera (and having had the great pleasure of seeing it staged twice), Crown should be sung by someone whose voice is riveting and commanding; in the great confrontation scene with Bess, I found it hard to believe that Crown could subdue her.

Which brings us to the recordings strongest point - Audra McDonald. Is there anything that she can't do brilliantly? She was trained as an opera singer, and it shows. Her voice may actually be a tad light for the role, but when she sings, you listen. The only other artist who does his role justice is David Alan Grier - his Sportin Life is also fantastic.

However, these two strong assets don't make up for the weakness of the overall recording. It should have been called "Porgy and Bess Lite" - or, better yet, it shouldn't have been done in the first place.

If you really want to hear this opera as it should be sung, go get yourself the great recording with John DeMain and the Houston Grand Opera or the more recent recording by Simon Rattle. THOSE are the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess.
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Stephen Sondheim did the new production a huge favor by writing an angry letter about the revamped P&B to the "NY Times" long before it hit the stage at the beginning of the year. The producers of the present version could not have paid for better publicity. Sondheim's main focuses were: 1. the substituion of a mere crutch for the formerly crippled Porgy's goat cart; 2. the insistence on "fleshing out" the characters with "back stories" that would explain their behavior more completely for a modern audience; 3. the "softening" of the ending (i.e. less Shakespearean and more Disney); 4. the misleading title for what is, essentially, a rewrite of Gershwin's original. In addition, Sondheim was offended by the presumptuous tone of the show's producers, cast and stars, who seemed eager to suggest that the play was dated, that modern audiences wouldn't sit still for the duration of the original and, worst, that the present directors and cast knew better than Gershwin about how the story and orchestrations should be realized.

Frankly, it's hard to disagree with any of Sondheim's points--providing you've experienced anything like the original Porgy and Bess. If you haven't listened to, say, the Houston Opera production George Gershwin's "Porgy & Bess", none of Sondheim's objections need apply. And even if you have experienced the original "American Folk Opera," the current "Porgy and Bess" plays better than most Broadway musicals you're likely to see. Sure, it's more "racially sensitive," more optimistic and "beautified" (Porgy exudes masculine charisma and virility, and we can only surmise that he will successfully meet up with Bess at play's end). So the American Dream lives on--a far cry from the more depressing, profoundly poignant, Lear-like ending of the original. But if substituting modern spoken argot for operatic recitative, simplifying some of the music, and reducing the length of the original will enable it to play as a "Broadway musical" to ever-larger audiences, perhaps it's entirely well and good for the two forms of "Porgy and Bess" to co-exist.

Sondheim's most persuasive point, imo, is that too much insistence on "realistic detail" in the portrayals of the characters robs them of the poetic, universal, archetypal potential they have in the original. Listening to the Houston Opera version, I suddenly had a little epiphany, allowing me to see Crown and Sportin' life as personal demons existing in my and everyone's subconscious; Porgy, in turn, is every one of us vainly pursuing an American dream while the counter-current is continuously pushing us further away from shore (to recall the end of "Great Gatsby") ; Bess is the conflicted mind of any one of us, considering alternately appealing pathways of power, pleasure, and devotion, forever conflicted about which path has her name written above it. Extra information, numerous details to inform us about the characters, their historical context, etc. works well in a Faukner novel; in theater, however, it doesn't necessarily promote a willing suspension of disbelief--that state in which we are not simply "entertained" by the characters but experience identification with them.

The recording of the new Porgy and Bess, unlike the Broadway version, has augmented the orchestra with strings, thus bringing it slightly closer to Gershwin's intent as well as his original score. Although expanding the orchestra helps to ""decompress" the current production, I still have difficulty dissociating this production from other recent Broadway musicals that were overly "energetic" (rather than "vital"); overly amplified (with sound systems so sophisticated that "live" orchestras wouldn't have been missed); and overly "canned" (the more extended the run, the more static and unmoving the performance). In one sense, my disappointment in recent Broadway musicals stems for productions that are too flawless, too predictable, too "programmed" (like golfers who work repeatedly to "groove" a particular swingpath into muscle memory). When "production" now counts more than performance, we the consumers are offered a "commodity" as much as an "experience." But Broadway musicals "can" be enlightening as well as entertaining. And one can only hope they can be entertaining without becoming formulaic and "slick."

Finally, it's become practically a "duty" to observe that Audra MacDonald is as bright a light as you're ever likely to see on Broadway. I'll accept that responsibility, with just one small caveat: I hope she branches out into other areas, bringing her beauty, her acting abilities and electric stage presence, her musicianship and seemingly unlimited vocal gift to bear on other projects in different venues--music festivals (classical, Broadway, and jazz), night clubs, films, television. The sky's the limit where she's concerned. In fact, I wouldn't blame her in the least if she decides, after all, to "lose" Porgy after he tracks her down.
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on May 24, 2012
I was astonished to discover that new orchestrations had been created for "Porgy and Bess" because Mr. Gershwin himself wrote his own orchestrations for the original. This was unusual for the time; Rodgers, Porter, Berlin, etc. relied on orchestrators to accomplish this task. Reportedly, Gershwin spent a great deal of time orchestrating "Porgy and Bess" so we can be fairly certain that the original was just the way he wanted it with no "middleman" on the way to the orchestra pit. My bigger concern, to quote another reviewer, is that this is a staccato performance. Take "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" for example - in my opinion this version is choppy and overacted. They work so hard to make the music sound like dialog that Gershwin's lovely, flowing lines of melody are lost in fits and starts as they "act". Audra is, as always, in lovely voice, but the overall effect is not as pleasing to my ear as I had hoped when I heard that she would be doing this production. In addition, Norm Lewis is not her vocal equal as was, for instance, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and this does not help matters. I recommend listening to samples before you make the purchase to be sure it is what you are looking for in a recording of "Porgy and Bess".
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on December 21, 2014
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on June 16, 2012
Some things are better left unchanged. In the 1930's George Gershwin created an incredible American opera, "Porgy and Bess" based on a book by Dubose Heyward. Gershwin, along with Heyward and Ira Gershwin, took the story of a man with physical disabilities (Porgy) and a woman with emotional disabilities (Bess) and created a story of love and redemption.

The music, when performed as written by Gershwin as an opera, is magnificent. Many adaptations have been done of this work over the years. The most recent is the current Broadway hit and winner of the Tony Award for best revival of a "musical" in 2012. This CD is a recording of that revival. It fails on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. Audra McDonald has a lovely voice and it would be nice to hear her sing "Summertime" in a concert setting, but to give this aria to her character, Bess, just because she is the star of the show is just so wrong. The aria belongs to the character Clara. To reprise it by Bess just to give the good number to the big star is an affront to the opera.

Staging the work so that Porgy walks, arranging his arias to fit the vocal range of the singer, adding explanations of the obvious so the audience isn't required to think, reducing the orchestration so as not to overwhelm the non-operatic voices on stage.... I could go on and on, but by now you should have figured out that I am an opera lover and feel strongly that this dumbing down of "Porgy and Bess" to make it accessible to 21st century audiences is disrespectful to the original. The producers should be ashamed of themselves.

If you want to hear an OK recording of a Broadway show with one super star and a cast of "others" then buy the CD. If you want to hear Mr. Gershwin's great American opera, look elsewhere. (CD purchased by Frank Ward and reviewed by Cathy Ward)
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on May 24, 2012
Much has been discussed about the revisionist theatrical production of "Porgy and Bess"--here actually re-titled "The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess"--but since this is only the recording of the show, one must forgo any indictments or encomiums leveled at the theater performance. The intent of the director and book adapter, Diane Paulus and Suzan-Lori Parks respectively, was to reclaim "Porgy and Bess for a contemporary audience," making it leaner and more accessible. In fact, what they have done is taken Gershwin's intention--creating a musically and vocally flowing opera for the stage--and turned into a staccato presentation of dialogue with songs.

It was no mistake that the white characters mouthed the only spoken dialogue in the original. That mellifluously flowing opera, and yes it was an opera, is now broken up into bits and pieces at the supposed goal of emotional urgency. We have great expectancy as the revised overture begins, and we are taken to the heights when Audra McDonald sings, but on the whole this revival simply does not cohere. It lacks the seamlessness that Gershwin had worked so hard to achieve.

Then there is their need to flesh out the characters. For example, early on we infer that Sportin' Life has been to New York, which I suppose is meant to tie in with the song "There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York." But why? Isn't it enough to assume that Sportin' Life is a Catfish Row resident who made it in the nearby "big city"? As for the song itself, it is a truncated version of the original, lacking the evil that we sense when, in the original, the chords turn sour as Bess emerges, stoned and ready to head off to New York. On this recording, we actually don't even get any musical sense that Bess is going with him. Porgy is also weakened by his greater dependency on wringing out emotion through dialogue. And I could only cringe toward the end of the recording when he yells out, "Hand me my stick!" in lieu of the original, heart-wrenching, "Bring my goat!"

If there is one reason to own this, besides being a P&B completist, it is for Audra McDonald's marvelous singing. But those who have the 1998 Tilson-Thomas Gershwin birthday celebration with Audra and Brian Stokes Mitchell may be content with that. If Paulus and Parks truly wanted to live up to James Baldwin's wish for "the real Catfish Row, real agony, real despair, and real love," they should have written it anew, with original lyrics, music, and book, and not tinkered with one of the masterpieces of American theater. That they called it "The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess" almost makes me think they wanted to convince us that it's the real thing. It's not.
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on May 2, 2013
I liked the vocals and performances. I AM a fan of Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis (whom I first saw in Side Show and marveled at).

However, I did not like the arrangements and the instrumentation. They felt flat and purposely understated in a way that I thought undercut the affect.

I went back and listened to the Louis Armstrong/Ella Fitzgerald recording of the music from this and decided that it is the one I like the best.
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on August 20, 2013
I don't know why they stressed "Gershwin's P & B" and then hired singers who were so ill-suited for the roles that they make all kinds of crazy octave jumps to stay within their limited range -- especially Porgy. Audra MacDonald is worth buying the album for.
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on February 4, 2013
Audra is splendid as always but if you're familiar with the original music, too many changes in keys and arrangements have been made to turn this brilliant opera into a musical comedy that should be called Bess.
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on July 21, 2012
One of the outstanding features of the new Broadcast production of Gershwin's evergreen opera is the singing of Audra McDonald. But equally it is one of the problems of this production. 'Porgy and Bess' is thought by many to be the OPERATIC masterpiece of the twentieth century. Its arias (songs!) require the vocal power and accuracy of true opera singers. Audra McDonald is unique in being equally at home in opera or on Broadway. Whilst she is mesmerising throughout, the other cast members are only very good show singers; Porgy is particularly weak on these disks. The second part of the show fares the best here with excellent ensemble work. There is great pacing throughout BUT this is an opera, and being privileged to see the recent wonderful Cape Town Opera production just a few days ago at ENO, one realises that anything less than a full operatic performance does less than justice to Gershwin's masterpiece. The recording is bright and immediate.
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