George Gershwin's classic opera "Porgy and Bess" is celebrating 70 years of a colorful and sometimes controversial existence. The Washington National Opera's production is directed by Francesca Zambello and has a contemporary feel -- no goat carts in this version.
In an article about the current production, The Washington Post's Jacqueline Trescott noted that since the day "Porgy and Bess" opened in October 1935, there has been debate about whether the work is truly an opera or musical theater, and whether the characters are offensive caricatures or homespun folks. But "Porgy" is revived often, and the recognizable music is revered. "Summertime," "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" are among the show's best-known melodies.
The story follows Porgy, a crippled beggar, and his love, Bess, who live in Catfish Row, a fictitious enclave outside Charleston, S.C. A character named Sportin' Life peddles plenty of cocaine and drink. Crown is Bess's man but has to get out of town when he kills a card player. Bess is shunned by everyone but Porgy, and she eventually declares her love. But all of their lives are turned upside down when Crown returns and is killed by Porgy. While he is in jail, Bess decides to start over in New York with Sportin' Life. Gershwin specialist Wayne Marshall conducts the Washington National Opera Orchestra, which for this production includes a banjo and jazz piano.