An introduction to Porgy and Bess

Find out everything you need to know about ENO’s production of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess

It’s an opera by American composer George Gershwin

When Bess is abandoned by her violent lover, she turns to the kind crippled beggar, Porgy for support. Their new life of happiness together is brought to an abrupt halt upon the return of her ex, Crown and drug dealer Sportin’ Life, who attempt to draw Bess back into old habits. Gershwin’s emotionally charged stage work was the first opera to demand an all-black cast.

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It’s based on a novel by DuBose Heyward

In 1925, Heyward published his novel Porgy, basing the title character on Samuel Smalls, a crippled man from Charleston, North Carolina, whose main mode of transport was a goat-pulled cart. Two years later, Heyward and his wife Dorothy turned Porgy into a play. During that time the couple were also in talks with Gershwin about giving their play operatic treatment. The opera was to be called Porgy and Bess, to distinguish it from the play and novel.

Gershwin completed the three-act opera in less than a year

In the summer of 1934 Gershwin and Heyward stayed on an island near Charleston, South Carolina (where the opera was set) to immerse themselves in the African-American setting that had inspired Heyward to write the novel. The ambience was just right for Gershwin to compose his jazz, gospel and blues inspired music in just eleven months.

This was the first new operatic production of Porgy and Bess in London since the 1980s

Although Porgy and Bess was written as an opera, its Broadway version has been equally well-received. Musical theatre adaptations of Porgy and Bess have been on the London stages since the eighties. Both versions of the piece are packed full of recognisable hits like ‘Summertime’ and ‘It ain’t necessarily so’.

American director James Robinson makes his ENO Debut

Artistic Director at the Opera Theatre of St Louis, James is no stranger to directing opera’s inspired by Jazz and Ragtime music, having previously directed productions of Blitzstein’s Regina and the world premiere of Blanchard’s Champion.