The Sedona International Film Festival is proud to present the next Met Live Opera presentation of The Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” on Saturday, Feb. 1. There will be two shows that day at the Mary D. Fisher Theatre: 11 a.m. (live simulcast) and 4 p.m. (encore).
Plan to come early as Russell Fox will lead a pre-opera talk one hour before each production (10 a.m. for the morning show and 3 p.m. for the encore).
The Gershwins’ modern American masterpiece has its first Met performances in almost three decades, starring bass-baritone Eric Owens and soprano Angel Blue in the title roles. Director James Robinson’s stylish production transports audiences to Catfish Row, a setting vibrant with the music, dancing, emotion, and heartbreak of its inhabitants.
Infused with the timeless melodies of the much-loved classics “Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin,” and “My Man’s Gone Now,” the new co-production with English National Opera and Dutch National Opera was hailed as a triumph at its premiere in London earlier this year.
Catfish Row, a tenement neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1920s. The inhabitants of Catfish Row are relaxing after a day’s work. Clara sings a lullaby to her baby. The drug-dealer Sportin’ Life, Clara’s husband Jake, and some of the other men are playing craps under the disapproving eye of the religious Serena. Jake sings a lullaby of his own to the baby.
The disabled beggar Porgy arrives and is about to join the game when Crown and his partner Bess appear. The loudmouthed Crown joins the dice game. Drunk and high on drugs, he loses, starts a fight, and kills Robbins with a cotton hook. Before the police arrive, Crown runs off to hide, telling Bess that he’ll be back for her. The community shuns Bess as they await the arrival of the police. Sportin’ Life offers to take her to New York with him, but she refuses. Only Porgy is sympathetic to her: He offers her shelter and his protection, which she accepts.
In her room the following evening, Robbins’s widow Serena leads the mourners at her husband’s funeral. A collection is being taken to meet the cost of the burial. Porgy and Bess enter, and Bess offers Serena a contribution which at first she refuses thinking it must be Crown’s money. She finally accepts is when it is explained that it is Porgy’s.
The police officers arrive and accuse Peter the Honeyman of the murder. Fearing what might happen, he tells them that Crown was responsible but is himself promptly arrested as a material witness. Serena convinces the undertaker to bury Robbins for less than his usual fee. Bess leads everyone in an exultant spiritual.
A month later, Jake and the other fishermen are mending their nets. Porgy compares his life to theirs. Sportin’ Life enters, but before he has an opportunity to peddle any of his “happy dust,” Maria, the matriarch of Catfish Row, chases him away. “Lawyer” Frazier sells Bess a divorce, even though she and Crown were never married.
In Catfish Row, at dawn a week later, fishermen leave for a day’s work at sea despite a storm warning. Bess is heard talking deliriously from Porgy’s room. She has been feverish and ill since returning from Kittiwah Island. Peter, released from police custody that morning, advises Porgy to take her to hospital, but Serena would rather pray for her recovery. Her prayers are answered: Bess emerges into the courtyard, free of the fever. She explains to Porgy that she wants to stay with him but that when Crown returns, she’ll be forced to go back to him. Porgy tells her that she doesn’t have to go with Crown, and he and Bess reaffirm their love for each other. The wind begins to rise and the hurricane bell sounds.
Taking advantage of Porgy’s absence, Sportin’ Life tries to convince Bess that Porgy will be locked up for certain, and he attempts to lure her away to a new life. When Bess spurns him, he forces some dope on her and leaves more outside her door as he leaves.
A week later, the inhabitants of Catfish Row greet each other at the beginning of another day. Porgy returns from jail in jubilant mood: He distributes gifts that he has bought with money he won playing games of crap in jail. He is unaware of his friends’ discomfort as he calls out for Bess. Eventually, Serena and Maria tell him that Bess has gone to New York with Sportin’ Life. Hearing this, Porgy decides to follow her: He cannot live without Bess.
The Met Live Opera’s production of The Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” will be shown at the Mary D. Fisher Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 1 at 11 a.m. (live simulcast) and 4 p.m. (encore). The pre-opera talks will take place one hour before each show. Tickets are $25 general admission, $22 for Film Festival members, and $15 for students. Tickets are available in advance at the Sedona International Film Festival office or by calling 928-282-1177. Both the theatre and film festival office are located at 2030 W. Hwy. 89A, in West Sedona. For more information, visit: SedonaFilmFestival.org.