Porgy And Bess
English National Opera, Coliseum, London ★★★✩✩
WHEN you find yourself rooting for a character so strongly you want to leap out of your seat and tell them what to do, then you know the gods of opera — such a fickle bunch — are really working their magic.
And those deities certainly wave their wands over this new production of the Gershwins’ Porgy And Bess at the ENO.
In the hands of megawatt baritone Eric Greene and wonderful soprano Nicole Cabell, the determination of crippled South Carolina beggar Porgy to protect the self-destructive Bess from the clutches of pimps and dealers is delivered with heart-thudding immediacy and vocal gorgeousness.
The rest of the all-black cast — the Gershwin brothers insisted it should always be performed by an all-black cast — are excellent too, with standout performances from commanding baritone Nmon Ford, as Porgy’s brutal rival Crown, and Frederick Ballentine as the dope-dealing chancer Sporting Life. Their achievements don’t owe much to James Robinson’s plodding production.
The set, a split-level wooden frame, doesn’t suggest much in the way of the slum tenement it is supposed to, and the chorus movements are generally static and generic.
The 1920s costumes generally look a bit too well-laundered as well.
But when you have a wealth of world-class black operatic voices delivering such numbers as I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’ , Summertime and It Ain’t Necessarily So, and all accompanied by the stylish and energetic baton of John Wilson, you know the gods are still smiling.
If you’re an opera novice, you could do a lot worse than taking a punt on this Porgy.