Release date: 3/6/2014
George and Ira Gershwin’s quintessentially American masterpiece Porgy and Bess comes to life in a new DVD/Blu-ray recording from San Francisco Opera to be released by EuroArts Music International on March 25, 2014. American bass-baritone Eric Owens, in “an unforgettable performance, an ennobling, majestic performance” (San Jose Mercury News), and soprano Laquita Mitchell, who “dazzled the SFO audience with her purity of tone and vivid theatrical presence” (Opera News), headline an exceptional ensemble cast led by conductor John DeMain in director Francesca Zambello’s riveting production.
The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess Comes to Life in a New DVD/Blu-Ray Release from San Francisco Opera and Euroarts Music International
Acclaimed Francesca Zambello Production Starring Eric Owens and Laquita Mitchell, Conducted by John DeMain, To Be Released March 25
Miraculously melding classical idioms, jazz, blues and spirituals, Porgy and Bess is highlighted by some of Gershwin’s most recognizable melodies, including “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” Distributed worldwide by Naxos, the DVD (RRP $24.99) and Blu-Ray (RRP $39.99) releases will be available from all major retailers and the San Francisco Opera Shop. This release marks the first live recording of Porgy and Bess available on Blu-ray and the first new DVD release in over twenty years. The recording also features bonus material including interviews with cast and creative team members.
San Francisco Opera’s The Gershwins'® Porgy And BessSM was recorded live in high-definition in June 2009 at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, where the run received widespread critical acclaim. “…the work has returned to San Francisco Opera in splendour, leaving no doubt that this is a masterpiece of American verismo” (Financial Times). “Porgy and Bess may be the most familiar opera that people don't really know at all. The San Francisco Opera's powerfully sung production…offers a chance to correct that situation” (San Francisco Chronicle).
A turbulent story about a crippled beggar, the headstrong woman he loves, and the community that sustains them both, the San Francisco Opera production stars bass-baritone Eric Owens and soprano Laquita Mitchell as Porgy and Bess, both in their role debuts. Eric Owens “conferred dignity, pathos and heroic stature on the crippled beggar; the bass-baritone’s warm flexible tone and ample vocal reserves were deployed with impeccable musicianship” (Opera News), while Laquita Mitchell “gave an evocative performance as Bess, compounded of tempestuous need and penitence. The love duet ‘Bess, You Is My Woman Now’ was a soaring, passionate high point” (San Francisco Chronicle). Owens, hailed for his recent performances as Alberich in the Metropolitan Opera’s Ring cycle—including on their 2013 Grammy Award-winning recording—will take on his first Ring cycle as Wotan in 2016 in a new Lyric Opera of Chicago production; he will reprise the role of Porgy with that company in November 2014.
The cast is also highlighted by Lester Lynch, who “as the menacing Crown, proved a crucial catalyst in this production, with his baritone filled with brooding, booming personality” (Sacramento Bee), and Chauncey Packer, “a blast of an entertainer” (San Jose Mercury News) as Sportin’ Life. Karen Slack (Serena), Angel Blue (Clara), Eric Greene (Jake), and Alteouise deVaughn (Maria) join the vibrant ensemble inhabiting the intricate world of Catfish Row. “The entire cast engaged to tell the story of an impoverished African-American community on Catfish Row in coastal South Carolina is so impossibly deep with talent—where to begin? How about with the sultry breeze of ‘Summertime’ sung by soprano Angel Blue, as Clara, wife of a fisherman? Or with the shattering ‘My Man's Gone Now’ offered by soprano Karen Slack, as Serena?” (San Jose Mercury News).
John DeMain, whose 1976 Grammy-winning recording of Porgy and Bess remains a benchmark, conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Ian Robertson, Chorus Director). “The San Francisco production, persuasively led by conductor John DeMain and sung by a strong cast headed by Eric Owens and Laquita Mitchell in the title roles, does full justice to the musical riches of Gershwin's score” (San Francisco Chronicle).
Francesca Zambello directs her acclaimed production, originally produced for Washington National Opera. The San Jose Mercury News hailed it as “spiritual transportation” and noted “the pace of Zambello's direction is dazzling.” The evocative production features set design by Peter J. Davison, costumes by Paul Tazewell, lighting design by Mark McCullough, and choreography by Denni Sayers. “The virtuoso dancing–choreography by Denni Sayers–is jubilant. The sets, reflecting Zambello's decision to move the action from the 1920s to the 1950s, are remarkable…” (San Jose Mercury News). “It was a brilliant ensemble production…featuring Francesca Zambello’s dramatic staging on Peter J. Davison’s huge, picturesque sets. The chorus, under Ian Robertson’s direction, was thrilling” (San Francisco Examiner).
George Gershwin originally conceived Porgy and Bess as an “American folk opera” and hoped it would have its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera, a suggestion that was refused because of the controversial nature of the subject matter. Based on the play by Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, Porgy and Bess was consequently reworked as a musical theater piece and opened on Broadway in 1935 with a cast of all African-American artists—an extremely bold move given the segregationist views of the era. The work went on to become a staple of the musical theater repertoire with several significant revivals, including a recent 2012 Tony Award-winning production starring Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis.
San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley restored Porgy and Bess to its true place in the American operatic repertoire when he presented the Gershwins' original operatic version for the very first time in 1976 with Houston Grand Opera. That landmark production, also conducted by John DeMain, established Porgy and Bess as one of the greatest American operas and went on to win a Tony Award on Broadway followed by a Grammy Award for the original cast recording.
Porgy and Bess is the third DVD/Blu-ray release in San Francisco Opera’s new collaboration with EuroArts Music International and Naxos of America. The Company’s critically lauded productions of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick—a best DVD nominee in the upcoming 2014 International Opera Awards—and Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia featuring Renée Fleming were released in October 2013, with an additional three titles slated to be announced later this year. For more information and video clips of Porgy and Bess, go to sfopera.com.