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Plenty O’ Something in ENO’s ultra-authentic staging of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess

19 October, 2018 — By Sebastian Taylor

Eric Greene, Porgy; Nicole Cabell, Bess; Nmon Ford, Crown; and Rheinaldt Tshepo Moagi, Mingo. PHOTO: Tristram Kenton

ALL the great songs are there, of course – Summertime; I Got Plenty O’ Nothing; It Ain’t Necessarily So; Bess, You Is My Woman Now and A Woman is a Sometime Thing.

But they’re not the central features in English National Opera’s new staging of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at the London Coliseum. Rather, the songs sit alongside the Catfish Row community singing by a huge, 40-strong all-black chorus of British, American and African singers.

And there’s much shouting, hollering, foot-stamping and clapping to accompany the singing. That’s because the production sets out to be ultra-authentic, delivering every Gershwin note and instruction to a tee. It’s Porgy as Gershwin intended – a folk-opera, not a musical.

The quest for authenticity is partly due to the involvement of New York Met as co-funder in developing the project and delivering the opera as Gershwin intended. The production is going to New York in the Met’s 2019-2020 season.

Among soloists in the ENO production, American baritone Eric Green handles the gamut of Porgy’s emotions with delicacy; American soprano Nicole Cabell sings an immaculately controlled Bess; and British baritone Nmon Ford delivers a bravura Crown.

Excellent Catfish Row sets comprise wooden scaffolding, two-storeys high, so you can see into everyone’s rooms. And the sets move about on the rotating stage.

The ENO orchestra is in top form under the baton of John Wilson, something of an old hand in taking on American musicals. Although we like to think of the jazz influences in Porgy, the score is littered with strong symphonic elements excellently drawn out by Wilson.

• ENO’s Porgy and Bess is at the London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2. Eleven more perfor­mances till Saturday November 17. 020 7845 9300, www.eno.org

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