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NOT the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
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.