Porgy and Bess

Sheer, wondrous energy surges across the Chandler Pavilion stage with the curtain's rise on the local company's next-to-last offering of this up-and-down season, and doesn't abate until a very short three hours have passed. Forget about all tinkered-with, reworked, abbreviated versions of the Gershwins' "Porgy and Bess" that have struggled to make the case for this maligned yet adored American masterwork. This time around, conductor John DeMain and director Francisca Zambello have contrived to deliver the work straight, close to uncut -- and close to wonderful.

With:
Porgy - Kevin Short (Alfred Walker) Bess - Morenike Fadayomi (Indira Mahajan) Crown - Lester Lynch (Terry Cook) Serena - Angela Simpson (Monique McDonald) Clara - Laquita Mitchell (Alyson Cambridge) Sportin' Life - Jermaine Smith (Victor Ryan Robertson)

Sheer, wondrous energy surges across the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage as the curtain rises on the Los Angeles Opera’s next-to-last offering of this up-and-down season, and it doesn’t abate until a very short three hours have passed. Forget about all the tinkered-with, reworked, abbreviated versions of the Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” that have struggled to make the case for this maligned yet adored American masterwork. This time around, conductor John DeMain and director Francesca Zambello deliver the work straight, close to uncut — and close to wonderful.

Designer Peter J. Davison has updated Catfish Row by a couple of decades into a rundown, skeletal five-story tenement, doors half off their hinges, with a creaking sliding door giving access to the sea. A shift in lighting converts the set to an even-more decrepit Kittiwah Island for the picnic scene, a ruined roller-coaster off in the distance.

Harder to fathom is the curious act curtain dominated by a split eyeball reminiscent of surrealistic movies from the time of the original “Porgy,” but not otherwise relevant.

The cast — the first of two sets of principals to be heard during the 11-performance run — is superb: Morenike Fadayomi stands out for her slinky, passionate Bess and her pure high tones; Angela Simpson breaks hearts with Serena’s “My Man’s Gone Now”; Jermaine Smith steals the spotlight with his rubber-legged Sportin’ Life; and Kevin Short delivers a Porgy who’s a tower of tragic strength.

Surrounding their work is DeMain’s extraordinary orchestra, buttressed by William Vendice’s fine chorus. They bring to the fore the remarkable richness of Gershwin’s folkish musical settings, the quasi-spirituals and laments that give the opera its unique power. Truly impressive, too, is the hurricane scene, with orchestra, chorus and fragile scenery all contributing to the sense of genuine terror.

At such moments, lingering arguments as to whether “Porgy and Bess” belongs in the legitimate operatic galaxy can be readily laughed off the stage; this is the stuff of greatness, greatly delivered.

Porgy and Bess

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, L.A. Music Center, 3,098 seats, top ticket $220

Production: LOS ANGELES A Los Angeles Opera presentation of the Washington National Opera production of an opera in three acts by George Gershwin, text by Dubose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin. Directed by Francesca Zambello. Conductor, John DeMain. Choreographer, Jennie Ford.

Crew: Sets, Peter J. Davison; costumes, Paul Tazewell; lighting, Mark McCullough; chorus master, William Vendice. Opened, reviewed, May 4, 2007. Runs with two casts in principal roles; second cast in parentheses. Running time: 3 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast: Porgy - Kevin Short (Alfred Walker) Bess - Morenike Fadayomi (Indira Mahajan) Crown - Lester Lynch (Terry Cook) Serena - Angela Simpson (Monique McDonald) Clara - Laquita Mitchell (Alyson Cambridge) Sportin' Life - Jermaine Smith (Victor Ryan Robertson)With: Marietta Simpson, Eric Greene, Michael Bragg, Barron Coleman, Timothy Davis Jr., Marvin Lowe, Malesha Jesse, Amber Mercomes, Tammy Jenkins, Justin Lee Miller, Perry L. Brown, Blaise Claudio Pascal, Ashley Faatoalia, Edward Edwards, Geoff Meed, Bart McCarthy.

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