A Grandstanding Production Of Porgy And Bess At London Coliseum

Porgy and Bess, London Coliseum ★★★★☆

By Johnny Fox Last edited 21 months ago

Looks like this article is a bit old. Be aware that information may have changed since it was published.

A Grandstanding Production Of Porgy And Bess At London Coliseum Porgy and Bess, London Coliseum 4
(c) Tristram Kenton

English National Opera celebrates 50 years at the Coliseum with a grandstanding production of Porgy and Bess, the first in its history. An enormous cast of 70 is drawn from a worldwide pool of talent, a massive revolving set represents the tenements of Catfish Row, the wonderful John Wilson conducts a supersized ENO orchestra.

(c) Tristram Kenton

In 2008, Trevor Nunn stripped back the recitative, introduced more dialogue and framed the songs in a more accessible musical theatre format. Cape Town Opera’s production in 2012 gave the material more contemporary relevance by setting it in the township of Soweto.

(c) Tristram Kenton

The themes of Porgy and Bess are both mystical and religious and it's here that James Robinson's full-scale nothing-left-out grand opera production really excels. From the Southern Baptist prayer meetings and funeral to Porgy's conviction when he finally pursues Bess to New York that he is headed for the Promised Land, the thread is consistently woven, and the magnificent swell and ebb of the choral numbers is pure Gospel singing.

(c) Tristram Kenton

The chorus is outstanding and the absolute highlight of the piece, but soloists are also remarkable.  At the top of the show, Nadine Benjamin rescues 'Summertime' from countless terrible jazz interpretations and restores it to both lullaby and anthem. Eric Greene's elevated baritone makes Porgy a more credible romantic and gives 'Bess, You is My Woman Now' an air of pride and charm over possession or patriarchy. Equally Nmon Ford's Crown is more nuanced than the usual boorish bully.

(c) Tristram Kenton

However stunning the staging, the singing, the orchestra, the characters are stereotypes drawn as though glimpsed from a car window driving through a dodgy ‘hood.  

And at well over three hours, that can be a long time to look through a car window.

Porgy and Bess, London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2. Tickets £20-125, repertoire dates until 17 November 2018.

Last Updated 12 October 2018