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U-M presenting test performance of 'The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess'

The controversial opera has been re-envisioned by The Gershwin Initiative

John Bubbles (Sportin' Life) and Anne Brown (Bess), 1935. Photo courtesy the Ira & Leonore Gershwin Trusts.
John Bubbles (Sportin' Life) and Anne Brown (Bess), 1935. Photo courtesy the Ira & Leonore Gershwin Trusts.

ANN ARBOR – A new edition of the famous American opera "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" will be performed at Hill Auditorium on Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m.

For three years, editors at the University of Michigan's The Gershwin Initiative have been hard at work recreating the opera, which has caused controversy for decades.

A story about the black American community created by white artists, at the time the opera first performed, in 1935, black culture was portrayed as exotic by white-dominated American show business executives.


John Bubbles performing It Ain’t Necessarily So, Alvin Theatre, New York. (Photo courtesy the Ira & Leonore Gershwin Trusts)

Although it is one of the most celebrated American works in modern history, its themes, appropriative nature and characterizations of black Americans has ignited controversy and mixed reviews for over 80 years.

"Now, Ann Arbor audiences will have the chance to experience a crucial step of the editorial process. The concert will provide audience members and performers alike the chance to experience the newly edited score, which restores material often cut in past productions." - University of Michigan News 

The concert will be performed by the the University Symphony Orchestra, U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance choruses and members of Emeritus Professor Willis Patterson's Our Own Thing Chorale.

The performance is a partnership of critically acclaimed professional soloists with the University Musical Society, led by Kenneth Kiesler.

Credit: University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance YouTube Channel


Morris Robinson, Porgy
Taise Trevigne, Bess
Chauncey Packer, Sportin' Life
Rehanna Thelwell, Maria
Janai Brugger, Clara

Solo parts (performed by School of Music, Theatre & Dance students):

Dorian Dillard
Darius Gillard
Julian Goods
Camron Gray
Lenora Green
Goitsemang Lehobye
Edward Nunoo
Yazid Pierce-Gray


Ruby Elzy (Serena). Pre-Broadway tryout, Colonial Theatre, Boston, 1935. (Photo courtesy the Ira & Leonore Gershwin Trusts)

Along with the performance, the community is invited to attend a symposium on the topic of race in the opera. Speakers will include performers, scholars and students and will "confront the wounds of prejudice within this work, from both historical and contemporary perspectives." The symposium will also be livestreamed.

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