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George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess [Import]

George Gershwin Audio CD

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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific performance with a legendary cast Feb. 21 2009
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
I own all the "complete" PORGY AND BESS recordings and a number of highlights issues as well. There are points in favor of all of them, and I like all of them for different reasons. I grew up on the old RCA highlights of PORGY with Leontyne Price and William Warfield. Here they are, caught a decade earlier in a decently-recorded live performance from 1952, and what a performance it is, broadcast in very good sound by a Berlin radio station and well-preserved. In some ways, its theatricality even eclipses that of the ultra-complete Houston Grand Opera version (which remains the best version overall). But anyone who loves this opera should definitely hear this vivid and thrilling performance as well.

Warfield is superb, completely absorbed in his part and moving beyond belief. Price, in some ways, is even better here than on the later studio recording (though, there, admittedly, it is wonderful to have her singing Clara's and Serena's solos as well. The voice is perhaps not as rich as it would become in the 1960s, but it's already a major voice, incredibly lovely and beautiful to hear. She too exhibits a deep involvement in the role and I defy anyone to resist "I loves you, Porgy" in this performance. Cab Calloway is Cab Calloway, and he's terrific, creating a vivid Sportin' Life and mostly observing the notes, though "There's a boat that's leaving soon" gets the full Calloway treatment. Irresistible. The Crown was in rough voice that evening but he never cheats, and he's convincing in his meanness and bravado.

The secondary characters are all splendid, and some of the most surprisingly wonderful moments come from them, too. The audience (otherwise unheard) breaks into applause for "Strawberry Woman" and you can hear why. A few moments are unquestionably the best in the PORGY canon - the little trio wherein the ladies persuade the police that "Serena been in bed three days and we been nursing her" is hilarious and lovely at the same time.

Of course, there are cuts, but Porgy gets his Buzzard Song, and none of the cuts are disfiguring; Maria's "rap" song ("I hates yo' struttin' style") is the biggest loss. This performance moves propulsively and it sweeps the listener along with it. The sound is good radio broadcast quality from 1952, and everything is clear, with almost no distortion to speak of. This is a wonderful performance. Yes, you should also own one of the later complete recordings for the sake of completeness, sound and whichever performances you're attracted to. I'd opt either for the Decca/London or the RCA Houston Grand Opera version. The latter is the more theatrical, the former slightly better sung. Some critics prefer the EMI/Rattle recording but, good as it is, I can't quite rake up their level of enthusiasm, though Willard White is excellent as Porgy. This recording, however, is a WINNER and well worth hearing. Don't miss it! This performance ROCKS!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Historical Recording of Porgy and Bess Aug. 1 2011
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Beginning in 1952, the United States Department of State sponsored an international tour of George Gershwin's opera, Porgy and Bess. The opera toured Europe in 1952 -- 53, returned briefly to the United States, and then, with different lead singers, resumed the tour to Latin America, the Middle East and Europe from 1954 -- 1955. During the tour, Porgy and Bess became the first American opera performed at the La Scala Opera House. The opera also was performed in Moscow during the chilly days of the Cold War.

Only one known recording survives of the State Department tour performances of Porgy, but it is masterful. The recording dates from September 21, 1952, from Titania Palast, Berlin. The recording is of a radio broadcast of the live production. In 2008, the Guild Historical Label released the recording on this 2-volume CD. The recording is of the "complete" opera, although there are significant cuts. It is an important historical record as well as an excellent performance of Porgy and Bess in its own right.

The recording has strong historic ties to Gershwin and to the first performances of the opera. Alex Smallens, who had been the music director for the Broadway premier of Porgy and Bess in 1935, is the conductor here. Eva Jessye, whom Gerswhin handpicked as choral director for the 1935 premiere, also conducts the chorus on this recording. The three stars of the production, a young Leontyne Price as Bess, William Warfield as Porgy, and Cab Calloway as Sporting Life would achieve lasting fame for their work in subsequent performances of Porgy and Bess. Both Price and Warfield sing with passion and Calloway is a suitably oily and unreliable Sporting Life.

The supporting cast is also strong. Helen Colbert plays Clara and gives a highly convincing rendition of the famous song "Summertime" in the opening scene of the opera. Helen Thigpen takes the role of Serena with a heartrending performance of her song, "My Man's Gone Now". John McMurry performs the role of Porgy's chief rival for Bess's affections, Crown. Some of the small roles in this opera,including the strawberry woman, the crab man, and Serena and the chorus in the final act are striking. The sound is very good for a 1952 recording and allows appreciation of the singing and the orchestra.

Porgy and Bess has had a long complex and controversial history since its premier in 1935. There are several versions of the work. Just before the premiere, Gershwin cut back his original score of about four hours to a work of just over three hours. Subsequent performances and revivals made additional cuts. At times the work was performed more in the style of a Broadway musical with spoken parts rather than as the distinctly American grand opera that Gershwin wanted. The work has been adapted in various was for television and the movies. Only in 1976 was Porgy and Bess presented with its original score. The many performance versions of Porgy and Bess is not unique in opera. Another extraordinary opera, Gluck's Orfeo written two centuries before Porgy,is also performed in a confusing number of versions.

Over the years, Gershwin's opera endured periodic charges of racism for its portrayal of the residents of Catfish Row, Charleston, South Carolina. The characters to me are portrayed with love and sympathy and the work has a universal theme of love and commitment that honors its setting and characters. The opera ends with Porgy casting aside his crutches and physical disability to leave Catfish Row for an uncertain journey to New York City in search of Bess who has left him yet again. The opera is based upon a book and a play "Porgy" by DuBose Heyward which Gershwin had loved and determined to set years before he turned to composing his opera. Heyward worked closely with Gershwin on the libretto to which Ira Gershwin also contributed.

It was valuable to think about Porgy and Bess and how it has become a revered part of American culture in connection with listening to this historic recording. The recording is an outstanding way to get to know Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. The recording will be of most interest to those who love this music and who are familiar with some of the more recent standard recordings.

Total time
CD 1: 62:08
CD 2: 77:09

Robin Friedman
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A LONG AWAITED HISTORICAL ISSUE!!! Nov. 19 2008
By R. Olsavicky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful historical document of a famous revival of the great George Gershwin's PORGY AND BESS. It is a very good sounding performance of a famous production that toured the world for three years in the early 1950's featuring a very young Leontyne Price and a fine William Warfield. The sound is very good Mono Radio Broadcast. Now, for purists this is not a note complete studio recording; but, a working live performance edition. This is how the work was performed at this time, in this famous tour. The original opera was about three hours plus long and we will never know what changes or final thoughts the composer may have had as this score went through various productions. It was considered a bit too long and death took another true genius composer way too soon. The original clocked in at a well over three hours. Shades of Wagner and THE RING! Gershwin should have been alive and well when this production hit the roads and had considerable input. It's to bad he died so young and never got to give us his final thoughts or work on this production with this cast.

Oh well, lets leave this and get to the performance at hand. It in many ways is excellent and very important. It introduces us to a very young and beautiful sounding Leontyne Price seven years before her famous Metropolitan Opera debut. A great voice and artist is heard in the very beginning of a phenomenal career. This role practically introduced her to the world and was an important triumph! The aria "Summertime" was always one of many encores in all her live recitals. I personally heard her sing this at least four times over her four decades career. It was always stunning with the most pure floated piano tones one will ever have the privilege to experience! Her highlights on RCA are also Spectacular! If you love or like this opera or are an unabashed fan of Leontyne Price, and I am, here is a rare chance to hear her in 1952 in a very important door opening role which she never recorded complete in the Studio. Don't pass this chance by. We have Guild Historical to thank for this special treat.

Now, not to slight the rest of the cast we also get Excellent performances from William Warfield and Cab Calloway. Again historic in the best sense of the word. The other female roles are everything from adequate to very good; some a bit shrill. We also get a lot of involvement this being a live performance. Finally, not an absolutely complete performance of this Masterpiece but, a very good sounding historic document of an important revival with some important career breakthroughs. Again, thank you GUILD HISTORICAL!
5.0 out of 5 stars I Love you Porgy-- Aug. 14 2014
By Casca - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
In my opinion, George and Ira Gershwin are in the top ten of lyric and music composers. American composers
can be proud these two set the mark high.

For me Porgy & Bess is perhaps the only great opera written by American Musicians.
This particular version , though not my favorite, has some of the great performers I
grew up listening to in the black and white films of the forties and fifties.

Glad to have discovered this on my favorite shopping spot.
7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Gershwin light Nov. 14 2008
By tinkerpup - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Regardless of the claims being made by the Gramophone reviewer and others, this does not even come close to being the complete opera. Nevertheless, it is this version that toured the world in 1953 and kept the work alive. This recording is an important document of the times: Alexander Smallens conducts and the Eva Jessye choir perform. Of course, both Smallens and Jessye were involved in the opera's premiere, so there are many touches that are idiomatic and apparently in line with the composer's intentions. Yet so many cuts are made I cannot recommend this version to someone who is not familiar with the complete work. So much of the lovely recitative is cut; much of the final scene is missing; and Buzzard Song, Porgy's great, tragic aria, is interpolated in the final scene, which makes little dramatic sense. Recommended only for a Price and Warfield enthusiast or the Gershwin collector who has the Rattle or Maazel versions, both of which are complete. The sound is acceptable mono, although it is difficult to hear the orchestra over the singers.

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