On down to Catfish Row: ‘Porgy and Bess’ showing in Grass Valley Saturday | TheUnion.com

On down to Catfish Row: ‘Porgy and Bess’ showing in Grass Valley Saturday

John Deaderick
Special to Prospector

Know & Go

WHO: Sierra Cinemas The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD

WHAT: “Porgy & Bess”

WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 1 at 9:55 a.m.

WHERE: Sierra Cinemas, E. Main Street Grass Valley

TICKETS: $23 Adults, $21 Seniors, $18 Children 12 and under & students with ID; Available online at www.sierratheaters.com or at the Sierra Cinemas Box Office

INFO: www.sierratheaters.com, 530-477-9000

This Saturday Grass Valley’s Sierra Cinemas presents the Met Opera Live in HD performance of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.”

One of the true opera greats, certainly the greatest of all American operas (though it’s the only one most people know), “Porgy and Bess” is remarkable in its depiction of African American life. George Gershwin read the 1925 novel “Porgy” by DuBose Heyward and then proposed they collaborate on an operatic adaptation. Along with Heyward’s wife Dorothy they travelled together to Heyward’s native Charleston, South Carolina, where Gershwin immersed himself in the local sounds and culture. He wrote, “‘Porgy and Bess’ is a folk tale. Its people naturally would sing folk music. When I first began work on the music I decided against the use of original folk material because I wanted the music to be all of one piece. Therefore I wrote my own spirituals and folksongs. But they are still folk music — and therefore, being in operatic form, ‘Porgy and Bess’ becomes a folk opera.”

That may be the secret to the opera’s enduring accessibility. Everyone knows the standard “Summertime,” even if they don’t know its operatic origin. The heartbreaking melody of “I Loves You, Porgy” would melt all but the flintiest heart. Heyward wrote the libretto and the lyrics to most of the songs. George’s lyricist collaborator and brother Ira penned the remainder, including “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” This work is nothing if not purely American. Here we have the sons of Russian Jewish immigrants making art with White Southerners that is sympathetic to the descendants of slaves. Of Heyward’s contribution, Stephen Sondheim opined, “DuBose Heyward has gone largely unrecognized as the author of the finest set of lyrics in the history of the American musical theatre, namely, those of ‘Porgy and Bess.’”

Of the composer of “An American in Paris” and “Rhapsody in Blue” what is there to say? He shone in every genre where he applied his gifts: jazz, musical theatre, the concert hall, and with this, his operatic masterpiece. How tragic he died at 38. Those who burn brightly often burn briefly. See you at the opera.

John Deaderick is a local theatre artist and the author of Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis, available at Amazon.com.

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