Wednesday, November 09, 2011

It's Gershwin! It's Glorious! It's Ghettoization!


John McLaughlin Williams sent the following email about yesterday's post Do I need to spell 'Neger production'?
Great picture [see below]. Are things much different now? At that time they had Chocolate Kiddies; now they have the hilariously over-exposed Porgy and Bess. Examining the largely negative roles in that opera (cocaine dealer, disabled, uneducated pauper, drug-addled woman of compromised virtue and slack loyalty) makes one wonder if we've come very far since then. Porgy and Bess usually sports an all-black cast, and touring productions have become the primary source of income for many singers of African descent. Could that be seen as a kind of ghettoization? Or worse?

Porgy and Bess does make a great contrast to William Grant Still's opera Troubled Island, which also utilizes an all-black cast to portray a drama about the fight for the independence of Haiti. These roles are positive. Could that be why it's only been staged once, and even though it was wildly cheered by the audiences at its premiere performances, the critics (ah, the conscience of the elite) unanimously patronized and panned it?
John makes some very good points. We wil be hearing a lot of Porgy and Bess in 2012 as it is the 75th anniversary of George Gershwin's death. Time for a fresh look at a "hilariously over-exposed" work?


* William Grant Still's Afro-American Symphony was performed at the historic 1945 concert when Rudolph Dunbar became the Berlin Philharmonic's first black conductor - read more here.

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