Director: Christine Crouse
Reviewer: Emily Pearce
Following on from their 2009 venture, Cape Town Opera returns to the Wales Millennium Centre with Gershwin’s jazz opera, Porgy and Bess, as part of a lengthier tour throughout the UK. The storyline communicated here could easily focus on the darker elements of the plot; the racism, the oppression, the drug abuse. Instead, Cape Town Opera, with subtle and sparkling direction from Christine Crouse, focuses the on the love and hope that pervades everyday life in a close-knit community and, as a result, produces a show of great warmth and vitality.
When this production was performed at the WMC in 2009, although enthusiastic and strong on verve, it ran into problems due to the audience having difficulty understanding the diction of the singers, the plot therefore being lost. This time the production returns as sparkling as ever, but with far more polish and finesse; all annunciation is crystal clear and the addition of surtitles adds clarity to anything possibly missed.
The singers are almost flawlessly cast, with Tim Murray handling the orchestra with charisma and precision throughout, allowing the singers plenty of room to exploit the jazzier elements of the score. Xolela Sixaba is a revelation as Porgy. His voice is impeccable throughout, cutting through the orchestra while impressing with its richness and versatility. Bess You is My Woman Now is a highlight for its poignancy and hopeful naivety between the two leads, while Porgy’s aria I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’ manages to be both affecting and light-hearted as the character realises that he does in fact have something to lose; Bess. Sibongile Mngoma as Bess is also brilliant; so thorough is the characterisation that the audience despair and empathise simultaneously as she makes mistake after mistake. Comic turns from Miranda Tini as the forthright and funny Maria and Victor Ryan Robertson as the superbly sleazy Sportin’ Life (with a sublimely silky voice to match) mean that the opera is full of lighter moments as well.
Occasional dips of tension in the writing meant that the opera did seem its full length of three hours, but with so much life to watch on stage, and each chorus member fully immersed as part of the action, there is always something to delight. The chorus, who continually move, sway and dance as they sing, really bring the spirit of the music to life; embodying the soul of Porgy and Bess. It is impossible not to think that this is the exact sound Gershwin wanted to showcase as he wrote, so spiritual is the singing, particularly in the gospel choruses, where the intensity seems to send tingles through the audience.
The conductor’s note in the programme comments that there is something unique about the way Cape Town Opera sings Porgy and Bess, “we sing it with our hearts and bodies”. This is certainly true, and the Wales Millennium Centre is all the more rich for having this feisty, passionate and accomplished production as part of its summer season.
Runs until 24th June 2012.