1. "George had a very special feeling for Porgy and Bess, and he felt that it was his great master work. And he wanted to depict these characters in a way that was taken very seriously, at a time when many people didn’t want to know or see a work that consisted entirely of an all African-American cast. It’s a very volatile period in our history because it’s 1935, it’s the Depression, and when George undertook the writing of Porgy and Bess, everybody was against him.

    "He was considered by some to be a Tin Pan Alley and how could he have the nerve to write an opera? The classical world said: This is absurd, who does he think he is? The Jewish community was agog. Of course the black community said: Our own people should be writing about our race, who is this guy to do it? I mean everybody was against him — except he had this vision and he had to fulfill it, and he absolutely believed in what he knew, what was inside of him. … And even after it opened, and it was financially a failure, he still maintained that it would one day be regarded as his greatest work, and of course, he was right."

    — Michael Feinstein on why George Gershwin would not let white actors and singers perform in his opera, Porgy and Bess


    Photo :Audra McDonald (left) and Norm Lewis play the title characters in the recent Broadway production of Porgy and Bess.

    Credit: Michael J. Lutch/Courtesy of the American Repertory Theater

  2. Michael Feinstein

    Gershwins and Me

    Porgy and Bess

    Fresh Air

  1. One time in 1965, our family all piled in the car and we drove across the country to California. The car broke down in the salt flats. I remember going to a gas station and my father gets out, because our air conditioner was broken. He must have been in there for 10 minutes. He got in, ashen-faced, and quietly said, ‘Everyone stay in the car. They don’t like Negroes here.’ That was a rude awakening.

    We had to spend the night in this small desert town. My father and mother told us not to play in the pool, to stay in the room. My brother had a skateboard. I remember we wanted to play. It was bewildering. It was not psyche-shattering because I didn’t grow up in that kind of world. My grandmother was born in 1900, and she would regale me with tales I call Little House on the Prairie tales, but they were tales of segregated and racist America growing up in Alabama and Mississippi, where she came from. … Our household was infused with black history. I grew up in a home and in a world in which you can do anything. We were all expected to go to college. My father was a doctor.

    — David Alan Grier on what his father taught him about being African-American in the US

  2. David Alan Grier

    Porgy and Bess

    African-American history

  1. Why would he be obsessed with Porgy and Bess? My father contracted polio on a troop train in Korea. He’s a retired psychiatrist. And all of a sudden, I go, ‘Of course. Now I understand. He’s seen all these productions of Porgy and Bess, and he ultimately came to the show. Which, boom — this was him, in a lot of ways, to have this opera depict [Porgy] on stage. In a lot of ways, this was an aspect of him that he saw, and it became infused with so much more for me.

    David Alan Grier on his father’s obsession with the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess

  2. David Alan Grier

    Porgy and Bess

    polio

  1. My agent called me and told me that this letter [appeared]. You know, you get certain calls and the phone rings in certain ways, and it just doesn’t sound good. And that was one of those times. I was shocked. I knew how much Steve loves Porgy and Bess. He’s never shied away from how passionate he is about this particular opera. And I think he is a genius; he is one of the great composers of American musical theater. And I respect his passion. But I know how I feel about this opera. I know how I’ve always felt about this opera. And I have never had anything but the greatest love and respect for this opera. So even if that’s how it came across in the piece — or that’s how it came across to Steve in the piece — there’s not one iota of disdain for this opera in my heart. And that’s apparent by my obsession with it over the years.

    — Audra McDonald on Stephen Sondheim’s critical letter in The New York Times about the production before it began previews

  2. Audra McDonald

    Porgy and Bess

    Stephen Sondheim

  1. The final Broadway performance of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess is September 23rd. The production won two Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical.

    The last melody in the show, after an entire night of [Bess] singing and being raped and kicked and beaten and all of this stuff, is ‘Summertime,’ and it’s a lullaby, and it’s high, and it has to be high and pretty and sung to a baby,” she says. “And it freaks me out that after all this, I have to sound high and pretty and fresh. And I’m always holding onto that baby, going, ‘I know you’re just a doll, but help me.’

    —Audra McDonald on what it’s like to sing such a strenuous role

  2. Audra McDonald

    Porgy and Bess

    Fresh Air

    singing

  1. Audra McDonald on stereotypes in Porgy and Bess:"[Author DuBose Heyward] really tried to get into their mindset, which was an incredible feat for that period, but it was still written at a time when blacks and whites were not commingling. So even though he researched as much as he possibly could, there were some aspects he couldn’t possibly know. He didn’t live it, and it wasn’t a time when blacks and whites could commingle. But as African-Americans, we can bring something to it that is our own experience, which is a truer experience just by the fact that it can’t possibly be anything but a truer experience because we actually are African-American. But people throughout the history of this piece have come down on both sides saying, ‘This is stereotypical and this is archetypes.’" View in High-Res

    Audra McDonald on stereotypes in Porgy and Bess:"[Author DuBose Heyward] really tried to get into their mindset, which was an incredible feat for that period, but it was still written at a time when blacks and whites were not commingling. So even though he researched as much as he possibly could, there were some aspects he couldn’t possibly know. He didn’t live it, and it wasn’t a time when blacks and whites could commingle. But as African-Americans, we can bring something to it that is our own experience, which is a truer experience just by the fact that it can’t possibly be anything but a truer experience because we actually are African-American. But people throughout the history of this piece have come down on both sides saying, ‘This is stereotypical and this is archetypes.’"

  2. audra mcdonald

    bess

    porgy and bess

  1. Audra McDonald on needing endurance to play Bess in Porgy and Bess:"The last melody in the show, after an entire night of [Bess] singing and being raped and kicked and beaten and all of this stuff, is ‘Summertime,’ and it’s a lullaby, and it’s high, and it has to be high and pretty and sung to a baby. And it freaks me out that after all this, I have to sound high and pretty and fresh. And I’m always holding onto that baby, going, ‘I know you’re just a doll, but help me." View in High-Res

    Audra McDonald on needing endurance to play Bess in Porgy and Bess:"The last melody in the show, after an entire night of [Bess] singing and being raped and kicked and beaten and all of this stuff, is ‘Summertime,’ and it’s a lullaby, and it’s high, and it has to be high and pretty and sung to a baby. And it freaks me out that after all this, I have to sound high and pretty and fresh. And I’m always holding onto that baby, going, ‘I know you’re just a doll, but help me."

  2. audra mcdonald

    bess

    porgy and bess

    summertime

  1. Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz just attended two productions of Porgy and Bess: an operatic performance at Tanglewood and a musical-theater version in Cambridge, Mass. He says it can work either way, “as long as Gershwin’s great score remains its heart and soul.” View in High-Res

    Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz just attended two productions of Porgy and Bess: an operatic performance at Tanglewood and a musical-theater version in Cambridge, Mass. He says it can work either way, “as long as Gershwin’s great score remains its heart and soul.”

  2. porgy and bess

    lloyd schwartz

    classical music

    tanglewood

    art