The Gershwins' musical masterpiece Porgy and Bess is one of America's greatest works. This production was adapted for the screen by Trevor Nunn and Yves Baigneres. It was directed by Trevor Nunn and is based on the highl... more »y successful staging of the original Glyndebourne Festival Opera production in 1986-87, which was remounted at Covent Garden in the autumn of 1992 with most of the original cast. Immediately after that performance the production was moved to the giant stage at Shepperton Studios, with much expanded sets and lighting. It was then recorded using EMI's original award-winning soundtrack. First performed in 1935 and based on the play Porgy by DuBose and Dorothy K. Heyward, Porgy and Bess has achieved worldwide renown through such memorable songs as "Summertime," "It Ain't Necessarily So," "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'," "Oh Lawd, I'm on My Way," and many more, set to Gershwin's moving symphonic score. 184 minutes. Porgy: Willard White
Bess: Cynthia Haymon
Crown: Gregg Baker
Serena: Cynthia Clarey
Maria: Mariette Simpson
Sporting Life: Damon Evans
Clara: Paula Ingram (sung by Harolyn Blackwell)
Jake: Gordon Hawkins (sung by Bruce Hubbard)
Mingo: Barrington Coleman
Robbins: D. Alonzo Washington (sung by Johnny Worthy)« less
"I have read through the eighty-some posts here and was surprised to read over and over "I want to see the 'original' with Sidney Poitier..." The "original" opera opened in 1935 and starred Todd Duncan and Anne Brown. Selection from this original production are available on Decca records (recently re-issued on CD). Also, on a CD entitled "Gershwin Plays Gershwin" there are excerpts from rehearsals of the original production!In the 1950s, Porgy and Bess was mounted on Broadway as a musical as opposed to its original operatic form. All of the recitative was replaced with dialogue. So much of Gershwin's amazing score was cut. This is the form of Porgy that was used for the Preminger film. It is not the Porgy and Bess that Gershwin intended - but only a "Readers Digest" version.At about the same time, Lyontine Price was touring in a new production of Porgy and Bess which brought the opera back to the public and which made her a star. There is an "excepts" version of this production which is nothing less than electrifying. It is a crime that Price never recorded a complete Porgy and Bess. She was a GREAT Bess.The next great production would come in the 70s with the Houston Opera's production, which is still considered definitive.I have seen the Glyndebourne Opera version when it was broadcast on TV, and I thought it was beautiful. The settings are very natural and the acting is quite good. One very unfortunate cut in this production (or at least from the DVD) is Porgy's "Buzzard Song", which is one of my favorite arias from the opera.I now finally have the DVD version, and the sound is very clear and well balanced. Using Dolby Pro-logic, there is a good separation between voice and orchestra.Try to get the Hollywood version out of your head and enjoy Porgy and Bess the way the Gershwins and DuBose Heyward intended it. It is THE great American opera and deserves nothing less."
A Beautiful Movie of Gershwin's Opera
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 06/29/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"You must disregard many of the earlier customer reviews of this DVD; apparently a lot of people thought they were going to be seeing a straight movie, or a Hollywoodization of the opera made in the 1950s. This, kind readers, is the REAL opera as its creators [George Gershwin and his brother, Ira] intended it and the Glyndebourne Opera production is beautifully opened up, as they say, for the movie camera by the eminent British director, Trevor Nunn. It's all under the direction of that nonpareil British conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, who has since moved on to the plum job of the conductorial world as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic.The cast is superb. Willard White owns the role of Porgy and his acting is superb as the cripple whose heart is broken. Cynthia Haymon sounds wonderful and looks terrific as Bess. Gregg Baker not only has the huge, sonorous bass that Crown requires, but he looks the part better than anyone I've ever seen in this opera-- and I've seen at least five productions, going back to Leontyne Price and William Warfield at the old New York City Opera. Damon Evans is a suitably oily Sportin' Life. Marietta Simpson, the eminent Mahlerian contralto, sings an absolutely riveting (and hilarious) Maria. Serena, Jake's widow, is ably taken by Cynthia Carey. Some of the 'minor' roles are portrayed by an actor while the singing is done by a trained singer; there is absolutely no problem with the lip-synching--indeed I didn't know until I saw the credits. Clara, the character who sings 'Summertime,' is acted by a beautiful young woman named Paula Ingram, and sung by the delectable Harolyn Blackwell. The ill-fated Jake is acted by Gordon Hawkins, and sung by the talented Bruce Hubbard. Visually the production is as detailed and realistic as any I've seen. The videography is fluid and unobtrusive. The denizens of Catfish Row are sung superbly and their movements intricately, and realistically, choreographed. I don't imagine I'll be wanting any other DVDs of this, one of my favorites operas (and certainly my favorite American opera) for a long time to come.Scott Morrison"
Good Made-for-TV version
Mr. Michael R. Evans | Melbourne, Australia | 01/14/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This version is well-enough sung and performed but has the obvious limitations of a Made-for-TV production.To answer the questions of many who have posted reviews for this title, the Gershwin estate owns the negatives and rights to the 1959 Dandridge-Poitier version. Done more as a musical than an opera,the Gershwins did not like it and have apparently taken legal action to prevent it from ever being shown again.They were even advertising in Variety for privately owned prints to buy and possibly destroy. Few creators are ever totally happy with the film versions of their works-for memory this was a generally powerful filmization with GREAT acting and fine(mostly dubbed) vocals.I hope the Gershwins will lighten up and let the public once again decide for themselves on the merits/flaws of this film. Censoring it only robs them of revenue and the public the opportunity to view the work of those involved.ANNIE GET YOUR GUN is tied up with the estate of Irving Berlin in the same manner but for different reasons..."
Wonderful "live" production but don't look for 1959 film
Mr. Michael R. Evans | 08/31/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For those who are looking for the 1959 Otto Preminger film of "Porgy and Bess" with Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge: you may as well stop looking. The Gershwin family a long, long time ago had all the prints as well as the original film negative totally destroyed. The Gershwins did not like the 1959 film, thought it did a disservice to George Gershwin, bought the rights to it and destroyed the entire production. I was always under the impression that only barbarians destroyed works of art, but these relations of the great composer gave me a whole new view of the meaning of the word "barbarian." So be happy with the current VHS tape. I saw this production on stage and it is just as good on tape. Hopefully, the DVD will be out soon. The following is for the folks who put out hundreds of trashy horror movies on DVD but who don't give a tinker's damn about such things as opera classics: put this production on DVD! The 1959 movie is, literally, history. This is all we have, and it is wonderful!"
MOVIE MAVEN | New York, NY USA | 02/17/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"George and Ira Gershwin wrote, in my opinion, the finest American opera of the last century. It is supremely melodic, intensely dramatic, provides at least eight first-rate roles for performers and (having seen the opera at least four other times in other productions) experiencing it, in this gorgeous Trevor Nunn production, is a treat I did not ever expect to see.First, the cast: Every single person in the huge company can sing and act. But special mention must go to Willard White (Porgy)-- a proud, strong, handsome man who projects his love and spirituality and his life as an outsider in his actions and wonderful baritone voice. Cynthia Haymon, is a gorgeous Bess. Her first scenes as Crown's drunk, addicted, whore/lover are performed beautifully--then her 'redemption' as Porgy's lover is wonderful to see and hear. Her lovely, strong soprano voice, her movements, her acting all change before our eyes. Gregg Baker is the perfect Crown. Not only is he a commanding singer, he is a commanding presence: big, powerfully built and extremely handsome. It is quite obvious how he could be both sexually exciting and absolutely frightening to Bess and all the other characters. Damon Evans is superb as Sporting Life the one character who depends more on acting than classical singing. This is not to say that Evans cannot sing. He does wonderfully with his two numbers which are, granted, more musical comedy-inspired than opera-inspired. And his acting could not possibly be bettered.The production by theatre-director Trevor Nunn ("Les Miserables," among countless others) is thoughtful and true to the creators' intentions. With his designers he has built a "Catfish Row" that is filled with heat, intensity, comedy, drama and, ultimately, tragedy. His staging of the orchestral prelude is the best, most interesting I've seen. The camera peeks into the lives of these ordinary people who depend on extremely hard work and few pleasures to exist. Several moments have stayed with me long after my first viewing: a first act fight in which Crown violently kills another character (Robbins)with a cotton hook, staged and filmed so realistically that one would think these were stunt people and not opera singers; performances by all of the few white people in the cast (Mr. Archdale & the Undertaker, for example) in which they do not 'talk down' to the African American characters (as I've seen in several other productions) but talk simply man to man; the way that the camera is tight on Bess's unbelieving face when Porgy silently (through the music) offers her his room to hide in when everyone else has turned her away; another close up: this time on Sporting Life watching the crippled Porgy summon the strength to kill Crown with his bare hands. And finally toward the end of the opera, when Sporting Life seduces Bess with drugs and his fantasy tale of what New York City will mean to her.
The London Philharmonic brilliantly led by Sir Simon Rattle is perfect in both the operatic and jazz sections. This is an altogether satisfying, majestic production both musically and dramatically. I have read almost all of the other reviews for this DVD and, honestly, do not understand the overwhelming longing to see the Otto Preminger movie. Poitier and Dandridge were not opera singers and the Gershwins wrote an OPERA. This means that the two title characters would have to be dubbed by other singers or, if they did their own singing (and I, honestly, have no idea if they did or didn't) they would have to compromise this extraordinary music.It is true that the syncing of lips and music is not always on target. This bothered me terribly at first, but then I found so much to love and admire about this production that it made little difference to me. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED."