Harnoncourt’s Porgy and Bess

Been listening to a recording of a 2009 production of Porgy and Bess, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. It’s not always as lively as I’d like it to be, and some of the smaller roles are sung a bit too much as though this were Italian grand opera; but all in all the production is very good, very moving, and remarkably clean and crisp, even in Gershwin’s densely written choral numbers. Gershwin’s orchestration is a bit weighty and takes skill to keep from overpowering the singers, and under Harnoncourt’s direction it sounds just about perfect, lush but not heavy.

I’m not wild about the practice, common now, of restoring the cuts that Gershwin made in rehearsals, with one exception. He cut these passages because he saw that the opera flows better without them, and putting them back in just weakens the pacing. The one exception is Porgy’s “Buzzard Song”, which actually strengthens the story and which Gershwin cut only because the original Broadway production was scheduled for eight performances a week and Porgy had three big numbers close together at that point, and this was too much of a strain on the singer’s voice. So one of the three numbers had to be cut for that production, but when the opera is performed on a schedule less tiring for the singers, “Buzzard Song” is well worth including. Gershwin’s other cuts, though, are better left cut as far as I can see. Harnoncourt restores a few of them, but thankfully not the whole lot.

I’m still on my first listen, nearing the end of the second act. Michael Forest’s Sportin’ Life seems like the standout so far, but really, most of the cast is terrific.

Ariadne auf Naxos

I listened to the Sinopoli recording of Ariadne auf Naxos again over the weekend. It’s a wonderful performance of one of my all-time favorite operas, a brilliant, ironic, profound, silly, rich, just about perfect match of story and song, words and music. The section from Ariadne’s “Es gibt ein Reich” (“There is a land”) to Zerbinetta’s “Grossm√§chtiger Princessin” (literally, “Greatly powerful princess”, but meaning something more like, “Your Excellency”) is one of the most satisfying twelve minutes or so of opera that I know. I could listen to it over and over again.