minutes? The continually falling semitones and nurdling harpsichord figures of the later stages of the work long overstayed their welcome—a lament devoid of passion, as if the lovers could never escape their suffering even in death and so just wallowed in their own misery. Call me heartless, but I lost interest.
Which cannot be said of all those involved in this production, who cared deeply, evident in the outstanding playing of each of the virtuoso members of the Sinfonietta under the direction of Geoffrey Paterson; in the bright, focused singing of Exaudi; and in the artful movement of singers and dancers about Simon Banham’s simple yet striking black-box set. Herford sang with a real ache in his voice, his rich baritone providing genuinely touching moments, especially in the mournful regret of ‘You have left me’. France soared to the upper reaches of her range with searing intensity: ‘Oh speak to me’, she cried towards the end in a flash of passion, vocalizing loss. Singing, playing, action and dance all came together exquisitely in a unified reflection on love and death. Just like Monteverdi’s Orfeo really, but without the drama. jonathan cross
Porgy and Bess English National Opera at the London Coliseum, October 11 Early audiences were not united in their approval of Porgy and Bess: black commentators quickly pointed out the irony of a work composed by an all-white team, presenting black poverty and drug addiction (and performed by middle-class black professionals), being hailed as the epitome of American national opera. Porgy and Bess does ‘harm to the advance of the Negro’ lamented the Amsterdam News, the USA’s oldest black newspaper at the time.
Has the work become any less problematic with the years? The new production at English National Opera was the first by the company, and issues of race were both omnipresent and surprisingly muted. Following the wishes of the Gershwin estate, the staging brought together an all-black singing cast, for a show that will tour to Dutch National Opera and later (with a different ensemble) to the Metropolitan Opera. Should a 21st-century opera company still be adopting racial casting, even for a work such as this? How do the soloists and chorus feel about being employed partly for their ethnicity?
■ Eric Greene and Nicole Cabell as ENO’s Porgy and Bess
These questions weren’t ones that James Robinson’s production appeared eager to explore. Conscious perhaps of the show’s international future, the keynote was safety, with the staging largely offering a gently sanitized vision of life on Catfish Row. Robinson’s
Opera, December 2018