The South Florida Symphony Orchestra has announced three performances of a groundbreaking new production of the Gershwin’s great American opera Porgy and Bess. The staging will be directed by famed Broadway producer/director Richard Jay-Alexander and SFSO’s acclaimed music-director Maestro Sebrina Maria Alfonso will conduct the 70 piece South Florida Symphony Orchestra with set design by award-winning designer Paul Tate DePoo. The new adaption, featuring an all-star black cast will be presented in three performances: Wednesday, January 16 at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall in Miami; Saturday, January 19 at the Tennessee Williams Theater in Key West; and concluding Wednesday, January 23 at the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, with a season gala event in celebration of the SFSO’s 21st anniversary.
Neil Nelson as Porgy and Brandie Sutton as Bess lead an all-star cast that includes Jermaine Smith – Sportin’ Life, Kyaunnee Richardson – Clara, Simone Paulwell – Serena, Eric Heatley – Jake and Gwendolyn Brown as Maria.
In commenting, Stage Director Richard Jay-Alexander stated: “Porgy and Bess is an American treasure. The original Gershwin Heywood all-star black cast of classically trained singers was revolutionary when it debuted in 1935 and has proven to be one of the most groundbreaking and enduring stories of the human condition. I am excited to be working with the South Florida Symphony Orchestra in bringing this incredible new adaption to South Florida.”
In commenting: Maestra Sebrina Maria Alfonso stated: “Since starting the South Florida Symphony in 1997, it was my hope to someday present Porgy and Bess to our community. It is a tour de force and a one of a kind classic that not only crosses musical lines but has broken social barriers. Conducting the Gershwin’s magnificent score with our 70-piece orchestra is truly a dream come true.”
In commenting SFSO President and CEO Jacqueline Lorber stated: “Porgy and Bess is the most highly anticipated feature presentation of our season. We are excited to bring this iconic American opera to our South Florida audiences in three magnificent performances as we celebrate our 21st anniversary.”
It is a rare opportunity to be able to see and hear the American masterpiece Porgy and Bess. It is universally recognized as one of the greatest creative works this country has ever produced. But that opportunity is now a reality, due to the commitment of the South Florida Symphony Orchestra, with an exciting cast and a full 70-piece orchestra, in all their glory, under the masterful baton of Maestra Sebrina María Alfonso.
Porgy and Bess was written by American composer George Gershwin, with a libretto by author DuBose Heyward and lyricist Ira Gershwin. It was adapted from Dorothy Heyward and DuBose Heyward‘s play “Porgy,” an adaptation of DuBose Heyward‘s 1925 novel of the same name.
Porgy and Bess is considered by critics the most important American opera of the 20th century. Gershwin’s masterwork has gained popularity over generations, boasting some of the most beautiful songs ever written, including known classics and standards, such as “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’,” “I Loves You, Porgy,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”
Like many great American cultural works, Porgy and Bess sprang out of the soil that created jazz, with its unique hymns, rhythms, field calls, blues, revival shouts and spiritual soul. Gershwin worked passionately to create a one-of-a-kind classic, which ended up crossing musical lines, creating something that had never been done before. Whether referred to as an opera, a folk opera or a musical, it is surely a theatrical masterpiece and rarely done because it is such an ambitious undertaking. For that very reason, the well-established symphony reached out to Broadway veteran, Richard Jay-Alexander, to bring it to the stage in a very special way. The entire orchestra and cast will share the stage in what is sure to be an exciting evening’s entertainment, telling an enthralling story, drawing us into the human condition.
The Gershwin-Heyward collaboration originally featured an all-black cast of classically trained singers-revolutionary casting in 1930s America. First performed in 1935, in Boston, at the time it received mixed reviews. Many people couldn’t quite come to terms with its Catfish Row subject matter combined with outstanding vocalists and sophisticated music. As everyone wondered what to label such a revolutionary work, with recitatives and arias, it is still argued today, by scholars, yet beloved and admired by all. Just a few seasons ago, a new revival was reinterpreted and staged on Broadway, by director Diane Paulus, starring Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald. It won a Tony Award for Best Revival. It has proven to be an enduring treasure and tour de force for orchestras and casts alike.
Rising above controversy, Porgy and Bess has broken the barriers of time and social limitations, valued today by what it represents in its essence: a real story “spoken” in beautiful music, that everyone can enjoy, relate to and still learn from.