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VIRGINIA OPERA PERFORMS THE GERSHWINS’® “PORGY AND BESS” - 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF THIS AMERICAN OPERA!
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GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY’S CENTER FOR THE ARTS
THE GERSHWINS’® “PORGY AND BESSSM”
Friday, April 23, 2010 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, April 25, 2010 at 2 p.m.
FAIRFAX, Va., March 22, 2010 – Virginia Opera wraps its 35th Anniversary Season with a scorching production of
The Gershwins’® “Porgy and BessSM” at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts Concert Hall
on Friday, April 23 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 25 at 2 p.m. The production, also celebrating its 75th anniversary, is a brave American classic bridging the gap between Broadway and opera. The clever love story between characters Porgy and Bess explodes with a fiery tempo, amid George and Ira Gershwin’s distinguished style featuring jazz, Broadway and opera. “Porgy and Bess” is based on DuBose Heyward’s novel “Porgy” and the play of the same name he co-wrote with his wife Dorothy Heyward, which focuses on African-American life in the early 1920s in Catfish Row located in Charleston, South Carolina.
Modern history has proven “Porgy and Bess” to be one of the most popular American productions; however, since its 1935 world premiere in Boston, followed by its 1935 Broadway premiere lasting 124 performances, its run has not come without controversy. In an era of segregation and racism, the avant-garde Jewish American composer, George Gershwin, insisted on an all black cast for this production providing authenticity to the opera. Thus, in 1935, classical European opera was challenged by the new genre of American folk opera. At one point in history its popularity waned in light of political and social views only to be reborn in the 1970s resulting in the only opera production to win Tony and Grammy Awards. To this day, the Gershwins’ terms specify that English-speaking countries may only produce “Porgy and Bess” with all-black casts so the singers and actors can bring the characters to life with passion and inspiration.
Confronting class and social issues like no other production, this is an emotional and explosive opera, sure to move audiences. “Porgy and Bess” will be a total immersion with singers and dancers weaving and interacting with the set, bringing Catfish Row to life. Gospel choirs from local Virginia communities will join opera singers and Broadway singers, actors and dancers on stage for the last Act to enhance the movement and spirituality that is at the heart of Catfish Row, which is based on the real-life Cabbage Row. The gospel choirs are from Hampton Roads, Central Virginia and Northern Virginia regions with each gospel choir group performing in their home region. “Porgy and Bess” will live on stage and off stage. This popular American opera production will be the most unique live performance to hit Virginia stages.
A sultry evening in Catfish Row flares up with life and lore when Jasbo Brown dares the sorted crowd with the magic of his piano. The infamously gorgeous lullaby “Summertime” is heard as Clara sings her baby to sleep, working men are letting off steam with a street game of craps, just as a lovers’ squabble is overheard in the near distance. Porgy, a cripple beggar, enters with the will and pride of steel, while off his hobbled heals brutish Crown blazes forward with his woman Bess, a headstrong prostitute, to purchase whiskey and “happy dust.” The tumultuous love triangle starts taking shape, as Porgy only has eyes for Bess. One by one, the Row revelers begin to disperse yet the sense of impending doom hangs heavy in the air as Robbins and Crown continue to drink and gamble. A brawl ensues and thus the drama begins. Crown runs off telling Bess he will come back for her. Bess is distraught and begs Sportin’ Life for some “happy dust.” He gives her the powdery substance and offers to take her to New York. She refuses him and looks for a safe place to stay but no one will take her in. As she hears a police siren, she contemplates fleeing but turns back. A single door opens and Porgy stretches his hand toward her. Bess takes his hand and walks into his room. Adversity, murder and love craft the lore of Catfish Row.
Baritone Michael Redding returns to Virginia Opera’s stage in the title character role of Porgy. His previous work includes singing the roles of Crown and Jake with the New York Harlem Productions, Evansville Philharmonic, Opera Carolina and the Natchez Festival of Music. Redding impressed Virginia Opera audiences with his performances as Gregorio in “Romeo & Juliet” (2005) and as Schaunard in “La Bohème” (2009). Soprano Kearstin Piper Brown makes her Virginia Opera and U.S. debuts in the title character role of Bess. A Virginia native, Brown has appeared in critically acclaimed opera, musical theater and recital performances around the world. Brown has performed the Hines-Lee Opera Ensemble, The American Spiritual Ensemble and has toured with the 3 Mo’ Divas. Brown was favorably received as Sarah in the Light Opera Works Chicago regional premiere of “Ragtime,” earning a Best Actress in a Musical nomination.
Sharing the spotlight, as The Washington Post’s, Joe Banno explains, is baritone Timothy Robert Blevins, “…the real star of the show is its villain, Crown, that’s because Blevins invests him with a powerful, burnished baritone, as strong set of acting chops, a swaggering confidence and a body-builder’s torso that deserves co-star billing.” Blevins performed to perfection when he last commandeered the stages of Virginia as the brutish Crown in Virginia Opera’s production of “Porgy and Bess” (2000). This December, Blevins starred as the Beggar/Happy Mac in a much-anticipated revival of Duke Ellington’s “Beggar’s Holiday” at Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, a retelling of “The Threepenny Opera.” Blevins made his Broadway debut as Sgt. John in “Miss Saigon.” Additional Broadway and Off-Broadway credits include “Showboat,” both “Sweet Adeline” and “One Touch of Venus” for the New York City Center's Encore Series, the new Disney production of “King David” for the re-opening of the New Amsterdam Theatre and as Husky Miller in the Goodspeed Opera House production of “Carmen Jones” at Lincoln Center's Miller Theater. Blevins was recently featured on the soundtracks of Disney’s animated film, “Home on the Range,” as well as Disney’s 2007 hit film, “Enchanted,” where he sings the Steel Drum Player for the Oscar-nominated song, “That’s How You Know.” In addition, he can be heard on the soundtrack for “Malcolm X.” He has also made a guest appearance on “As the World Turns.”
Joining the illustrious cast is Chesapeake, Virginia native soprano Aundi Marie Moore as Serena, lyric soprano Nicole Jenkins as Clara and baritone Lawrence Craig as the “happy dust” dealing Sportin’ Life. All singers are making their Virginia Opera debuts. Moore is a recent alumna of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program with Washington National Opera. The Washington Post hails her as possessing a voice of “clarion beauty.” Jenkins is a Virginia Opera Spectrum Resident Artist and also the Outreach Choir Coordinator for the production. Craig is a veteran of jazz, classical, Broadway and modern music performances; perhaps his most unusual role was as both stage director and Sportin’ Life in the Albanian National Opera’s recent triumphant production of “Porgy and Bess.”
Director Greg Ganakas returns to Virginia Opera, having previously directed “The Highlights of Porgy and Bess” (2010) for the association’s education department, “The Barber of Seville” (2009), “The Family Day Pirates of Penzance” and “The Family Day Pinocchio” productions (2007 and 2008) and “Carousel” and “Oklahoma!” in the early 1990s with great success. He most recently collaborated with Disney Live Entertainment and Radio City Music Hall Productions. He has also staged productions for the Minnesota Opera, Central City Opera, Omaha Symphony, Glimmerglass Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden and Lincoln Center.
Conducting more than 100 Virginia Opera productions, the world-renown Maestro Peter Mark returns to conduct for his 35th Season. “If Peter Mark’s name has become synonymous with Virginia Opera, it is for a good reason,” states Harrison Opera House’s Founding President, Edythe C. Harrison. Mark will also lead the 2010-11 Season conducting two productions including Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Wagner’s “The Valkyrie.” His recent work has focused on the identification and training, as well as career-building opportunities for extraordinarily gifted young international opera singers.
Virginia Opera’s production of the Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” is proud to be part of the “MINDS WIDE OPEN: Virginia Celebrates Women in the Arts.” The celebration is the first statewide celebration of its kind. Between March and June of 2010, thousands of special programs and events will occur across the Commonwealth to honor contributions by women to arts and culture. Any individual or group can participate by presenting at least one public program that have been created by women or feature women as the primary focus. Learn more about this unprecedented collaboration by visiting www.vamindswideopen.org.
The Richmond Symphony accompanies the production, which is sung in English with English Digitext Supertitles projected above the stage. Virginia Opera may also be found on the web at http://www.vaopera.org, myspace.com/vaopera and youtube.com/vaopera.
Tickets for the VIRGINIA OPERA’S “PORGY AND BESS ” are $86, $72, $44 (Friday) and $98, $80, $48 (Sunday). Charge by phone at 888-945-2468 or visit cfa.gmu.edu. The Center for the Arts complex is located on the Fairfax campus of George Mason University at the intersection of Braddock Road and Route 123. Paid parking is located in the deck adjacent to the mainstage Concert Hall and FREE parking is located in university lot K. Visit cfa.gmu.edu.
About Great Performances at Mason
Great Performances at Mason is a program of George Mason University's Center for the Arts, the professional presentation and production arm of the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA). CVPA provides an academic environment in which the arts are explored as individual disciplines and interdisciplinary forms that strengthen one another. The college prepares students for careers as creators, performers, teachers, scholars, arts leaders and arts entrepreneurs. Understanding that an education in the arts is deepened by regular contact with the work of distinguished visiting artists, the Center for the Arts, the professional presentation and production arm of the college, welcomes a variety of professional and world-renowned artists, musicians and actors to its stage. Students have the opportunity to perform, create and exhibit their work in a wide variety of public venues including a 2,000-seat Concert Hall. CVPA is home to the Schools of Music, Dance and Art, the Department of Theater, as well as the Computer Game Design, Arts Management and Film and Video Studies programs.
About George Mason University
Named the #1 national university to watch in the 2009 rankings of U.S. News & World Report, George Mason University is an innovative, entrepreneurial institution with global distinction in a range of academic fields. Located in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., Mason provides students access to diverse cultural experiences and the most sought-after internships and employers in the country. Mason offers strong undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering and information technology, organizational psychology, health care and visual and performing arts. With Mason professors conducting groundbreaking research in areas such as climate change, public policy and the biosciences, George Mason University is a leading example of the modern, public university.