S.B.: Let’s be fair to Norm Lewis. He’s too debonair and commanding for Porgy, but that leading-man charisma also makes him a hero you want to root for. His poise and his voice bolster each other. Does his sound blend perfectly with Audra’s? No, but that’s rare and nearly impossible when you’re importing opera-size music to a Broadway house. I can’t say I minded the frictions among the voices. They kept me tuned in.
J.D.: Are you saying that Broadway necessarily sacrifices musical nuance?
S.B.: I’m saying there’s a certain endearing vocal bricolage that marks many Broadway productions. That heterogeneity—matched with enormous performance energy—is something I enjoy. For me, it’s about the sell, not the style.
J.D.: Hey, I’m not anti-Broadway. My ideal version of “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” is from a Gershwin centennial concert I attended at Carnegie Hall, when McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell sang with the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. Listening to the recording now, I’m struck by its subtlety and elasticity. In this production, the conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos keeps time as if he were beating a carpet.
S.B.: I’m not going to claim this is the best Porgy ever. But we’ve got to leave room for the rough-and-tumble of a fully committed staging—emotional, physical, dramatic, and musical. I think Diane Paulus ended up with less a revision and more of a demo—and I mean that as a compliment. Because of Porgy’s stutter-step history, we think of it as a kind of pageant rather than a commercial show. That’s legitimate, but what I saw last week was a musical, a simple play distilled in gorgeous song, and it breaks the vacuum seal around Porgy and Bess. I like my toys played with, not unscuffed in the bubble wrap. Look to see this theory in action in 2046, when my P-ORGS + b3ss: An ElectroNeuropera debuts in your telepathic FaceBrain Queue.
J.D.: I’d like to see that. Mind-meld me the link when it’s up?