"Porgy and Bess"
Fate decreed that a landmark birthday coincided with the visit of the Cape Town Opera to Cardiff, and a return of their production of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” (in conjunction with the premiere of The Mandela Trilogy) – thus, it would have been impolite not to book a ticket. It was only my second opera (following the Welsh National Opera’s “Turandot” some years ago), and my first visit to the hugely impressive main auditorium - the Donald Gordon Theatre - at the Wales Millennium Centre (excellent acoustics, and a clear view of the stage, even in the cheap seats). In this production, Catfish Row is transplanted direct to an impoverished apartheid-era South African township, and the accents are sometimes impenetrable (so I was grateful for the sur-titles), but, aside from a few moments of step-dancing, the choreography is pretty much in the Broadway tradition. I knew most of the music, of course, most notably from the legendary Miles Davis album, but was surprised at how unfamiliar I was with the sex/drugs/death element of the plot. The singing was wonderful, especially from Sibongile Mngoma as the sensual but weak-willed Bess; indeed, the female voices seemed stronger, on the whole, than the male ones. The WNO Orchestra (conducted by Albert Horne) delivered the score with sumptuous potency, and even at three hours, the pace never flagged. I was, I must admit, unprepared for the emotional impact of the ending, in which the tragic Porgy’s futile (it seems) final act was transformed by the chorus into a gesture of revolutionary defiance, signifying victory against all the odds – something of a masterstroke. A beautiful experience.
By another coincidence, I found a copy of the Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong version on CD, when I took a birthday trip (kindly underwritten by my mother, who came along) to Paris. The highlight of the too-brief stay (apart from a boat-trip on the Seine, the world’s most expensive turkey sandwich on the Champs-Elysees, and a rather good vegetarian Indian restaurant - http://krishnabhavan.net/), was a visit to the collection of modern art at the Centre Pompidou – profoundly inspirational, and well worth the journey in itself.
(Excellent mural near the Pompidou Centre: http://www.flickr.com/photos/69623207@N00/7471753192/)
I must make mention of the recent passing of two great South Wales actors of my acquaintance – Brian Hibbard and Dorien Thomas. Both fine exponents of their art, as well as being excellent men to spend time with, full of good advice which was gratefully received. May they rest in peace.