Friday, February 02, 2007

Too much 'and', not enough 'Porgy' or 'Bess'

To the Savoy Theatre for Trevor Nunn's de-opera-ised version of Porgy and Bess. It's just like the Gershwins' original, only cut by two hours, with better dancing and lowered by two octaves.

This was never going to be an easy proposition and Nunn went about the changes in the right way. To make it accessible and just plain digestible, the opera had to go, so moving the registers down to human level made perfect sense. I always found these wonderful blues songs - Summertime, I Got Plenty O' Nuttin, It Ain't Necessarily So - being sung by classically-trained singers more than odd, verging on inappropriate. Now they are richly, not archly, given.

The dancing also fits in well. It's not your Bob-Fosse-let's-move-like-we-have-no-bones-at-double-speed style, but rather the sort of movement that you think happy people would do. It was all very natural, again quite unoperatic.

These were the vital, successful changes. Far less successful was the pruning of the book, which left Porgy (played stolidly by the understudy) and Bess (Nicola Hughes, glowing and with a beautiful voice) almost as secondary characters. The entire development of their relationship was removed, so you have to make quite some leap to believe the stray hussy Porgy takes in is suddenly his lady love.

It didn't help at all that there was no chemistry; I'm perfectly willing to accept there may be between Clarke Peters (the proper Porgy) and Hughes, but the understudy projected the passion of a catfish.

As my friend pointed out, there was also a problem with over-miking. This was most evident when it was most ruinous: Bess is singing Porgy, I's Your Woman Now and Porgy is singing with her. Due to the over-miking, they seemed to be in a competition for who could sing loudest and consequently both were lost. This was the chance for Bess to shine.

The ensemble was fantastic, having much opportunity to shine. Perhaps too much opportunity, in fact, since we spent so much time in their company that the main story was neglected. Nevertheless, it was a joy to watch them.

On another evening, I might have been convinced that this was the electrifying night most critics have said. This night, however, I was far from convinced and feel slightly hard done-by: Hughes was so magnificent in her suffering and her love, with a terrific voice, that I would have liked to have seen much more of her and less of the ensemble.

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