Porgy & Bess

The gershwins' Porgy & Bess

Friday, February 12, 2016 at 7:30pm & Sunday, February 14, 2016 at 2pm

Student Night at the Opera Performance on Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 7pm

The Historic Valentine Theatre - Conducted by James Meena

A broken Beggar and a Desperate Woman

A Hot and Tumultuous Summer

Gershwin's Monumental Masterpiece

George Gershwin's classic American folk opera went from Broadway in 1935 to the Met in 1985.  "Summertime" and "It Ain't Necessarily So" are just two of the musical gems you will hear in our concert version presented with evocative digital projections.  This is opera in your native language: not just the words, but also the music!

While eternally controversial in its depiction of racial stereotypes, Porgy has secured its place as a piece of Americana, a mixture of jazz and opera.  This production features acclaimed Wagner baritone Gordon Hawkins, soprano Laquita Mitchell whose Bess with San Francisco Opera was just released on DVD, and is conducted by Toledo Opera Principal Artistic Advisor, Maestro James Meena. 

Don't miss this piece which could only have been made in America!

Presenting Sponsor: 

Sauder Stewardship Foundation

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Porgy & Bess

Folk Opera in 2 Acts – Concert performance

Approximate running time: 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission

SETTING: Catfish Row, Charleston, South Carolina - 1920’s


Scene 1: Catfish Row, a summer evening

Clara sings a lullaby to her baby (Summertime) as the working men prepare for a game of craps. Clara's husband, Jake, tries his own lullaby (A Woman is a Sometime Thing) with little effect. Porgy, a cripple and a beggar, enters on his goat cart to organize the game. Crown, a lowlife, and his woman Bess enter, and the game begins. Sportin' Life, the local supplier of cocaine and bootleg alcohol, also joins in. One by one, the players get crapped out, leaving only Robbins and Crown, who have become extremely drunk. When Robbins wins, Crown starts a fight, and kills Robbins. Crown runs, telling Bess to fend for herself. All the residents reject her, except Porgy, who shelters her.

Scene 2: Serena's Room, the following night

The mourners sing a spiritual to Robbins (Gone, Gone, Gone). To raise money for his burial, a saucer is placed on his chest for the mourners' donations (Overflow). A white detective enters, in a speaking voice telling Serena (Robbins' wife) that she must bury her husband soon, or his body will be given to medical students. He arrests Peter (a bystander), whom he will force to testify against Crown. Serena laments her loss in My Man's Gone Now. The undertaker enters, and agrees to bury Robbins as long as Serena promises to pay him back. Bess and the chorus finish the act with Leavin' for the Promise' Lan' .

Scene 3: Catfish Row, a month later, in the morning

Jake and the other fishermen prepare for work (It take a long pull to get there). Clara asks Jake not to go, and to come to a picnic, but he tells her that they desperately need the money. This causes Porgy to sing from his window about his outlook on life (I got plenty o' nuttin’). Sportin' Life waltzes around, selling cocaine, but soon incurs the wrath of Maria (I hates yo' struttin' style). A fraudulent lawyer, Frazier, arrives and farcically divorces Bess from Crown. Archdale, a white lawman, enters and informs Porgy that Peter will soon be released. The bad omen of a buzzard flies over Catfish Row, causing Porgy to sing Buzzard keep on flyin' over.

As the rest of Catfish Row prepares for the picnic, Sportin' Life asks Bess to start a new life with him in New York; she refuses. Bess and Porgy are now left alone, and express their love for each other (Bess, you is my woman now). The chorus re-enters in high spirits as they prepare to leave for the picnic (Oh, I can't sit down). Bess leaves Porgy behind as they go off to the picnic. Porgy reprises I got plenty o' nuttin’ in high spirits.


Scene 1: Kittiwah Island, that evening

The chorus enjoys themselves at the picnic (I ain't got no shame doin' what I like to do!). Sportin' Life presents the chorus his cynical views on the Bible (It ain't necessarily so), causing Serena to chastise them (Shame on all you sinners!). Crown enters to talk to Bess, and he reminds her that Porgy is "temporary." Bess wants to leave Crown forever (Oh, what you want wid Bess?) but Crown makes her follow him into hiding in the woods.

Scene 2: Catfish Row, a week later, just before dawn

Jake leaves to go fishing with his crew, and Peter returns from prison. Bess is lying in Porgy's room, sick with a fever. Serena prays to remove Bess's affliction (Oh, doctor Jesus). The Strawberry Woman and the Crab Man sing their calls on the street, and Bess soon recovers from her fever. Bess talks with Porgy about her sins (I wants to stay here) before exclaiming I loves you, Porgy. Porgy promises to protect her from Crown. The scene ends with the hurricane bell signaling an approaching storm.

Scene 3: Serena's Room, dawn of the next day

The residents of Catfish Row drown out the sound of the storm with prayer. A knock is heard at the door, and the chorus believes it to be Death (Oh there's somebody knocking at the door). Crown enters dramatically, seeking Bess. The chorus tries praying to make Crown leave, causing him to goad them with the un-Christian A red-headed woman make a choo-choo jump its track. Clara sees Jake's boat turn over in the river, and she runs out to try and save him. Crown says that Porgy is not a real man, as he cannot go out to rescue her from the storm. Crown goes himself, and the chorus finishes its prayer. Clara dies in the storm, and Bess will now care for her baby.

Scene 4: Catfish Row, the next night

The chorus mourns Clara and Jake (Clara, Clara, don't you be downhearted). Crown enters to claim Bess, and a fight ensues, which ends with Porgy killing Crown. Porgy exclaims to Bess, You've got a man now. You've got Porgy!

Scene 5: Catfish Row, the next afternoon

A detective enters and talks with Serena and Maria about the murders of Crown and Robbins. They deny knowledge of Crown's murder, causing the detective to question an apprehensive Porgy. He asks Porgy to come and identify Crown's body. Sportin' Life tells Porgy that corpses bleed in the presence of their murderers, and the detective will use this to hang Porgy. Porgy refuses to identify the body, and is arrested for contempt of court. Sportin' Life forces Bess to take cocaine, and then tells her that Porgy will be locked up for a long time. He tells her that she should start a new life with him in New York with the dazzling There's a boat dat's leavin' soon for New York. She shuts the door on his face, but he knows that doubt at Porgy's return will make her follow him.

Scene 6: Catfish Row, a week later

Porgy is released from jail and returns to Catfish Row richer, after playing craps with his cellmates with his "lucky bones", as he calls his dice. He gives gifts to the residents, and does not understand why they all seem so downhearted. He sees Clara's baby is now with Serena and madly asks where Bess is. Maria and Serena tell him that Bess has run off with Sportin' Life to New York. All three sing the trio O Bess, oh where's my Bess. Porgy calls for his goat cart, and leaves for New York to find Bess in the closing song Oh Lawd, I'm on my way.


Gordon Hawkins (Porgy)

Gordon Hawkins is critically acclaimed throughout the world for his in-depth interpretations and lush baritone voice. A dramatic baritone with an international reputation as a “Rigoletto specialist,” Mr. Hawkins has delighted audiences as the tragic Verdi underdog in more than 170 performances. He is now earning critical acclaim as a Wagner specialist: “Alberich was superbly realized by baritone Gordon Hawkins, in his [Los Angeles Opera] début. Despite wearing a grotesque puppet head and clunky boots that hobbled his movements, Hawkins delivered a sterling vocal characterization of the power-mad Nibelung.” (Opera News).

This season, he is performing the title role in Vancouver Opera’s production of Rigoletto, Porgy in Porgy and Bess in Concert at Toledo Opera, Scarpia in Tosca with the Cincinnati Opera, a recital entitled War and Remembrance at The Clarice Center for the Performing Arts, and Alberich in The Ring Cycle at Washington National Opera.


Laquita Mitchell (Bess)

Soprano Laquita Mitchell consistently earns acclaim at eminent international opera companies, leading performances with Los Angeles Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera, and Opéra Comique in Paris, among many others.

This season she will be appearing in One River, One Land, One People by Hannibal Lokumbe with Maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra; sing in two recitals with Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago, performing works by Samuel Barber, John Carter and Lee Hoiby; reprises the role of Bess in Porgy and Bess with the Toledo Opera, Springfield Symphony, and Baltimore Symphony, and will be a featured soloist in a Gala Concert with Jerry Steichen and Friends in Tonkawa, OK. Ms. Mitchell also makes her New York Philharmonic début alongside Eric Owens this fall in In Their Footsteps: Great African American Singers and Their Legacy.

Robert Mack (Sportin Life)

A member of the critically-acclaimed Three Mo’ Tenors, Robert Mack receives glorious reviews for his powerful and sweet lyric tenor voice, throughout the US and Europe. He has performed principal roles with noted opera companies, such as Houston Grand Opera, New York City Opera, Opéra Française de New York, Nashville Opera, Opera Carolina, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Indianapolis Opera, The Paris Bastille, The Teatro Real in Spain, The Royal Danish Theater, Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and is on the roster of The Metropolitan Opera. He performs tenor solos with The Collegiate Chorale and The Alvin Ailey Dance Company in Revelations and performed in Spoleto Festival’s premier of Amistad. He also performed on Broadway in Smokey Joe’s Café. He can be heard on DECCA records, Paragon records KSW Music. Mr. Mack co-founded and is the General Director of Opera Noire of New York.

Othalie Graham (Serena)

Canadian-American Soprano Othalie Graham is receiving critical acclaim internationally. This season sees Ms. Graham sing Turandot at Nashville Opera, Serena in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in concert with Toledo Opera and Springfield Symphony, and a Wagner Gala with Orquesta Filarmónica de la UNAM. Recent engagements include the title role of Aïda with Opera Carolina, Toledo Opera, and with the Festival Euro Mediterraneo at Teatro Greco di Siracusa; the title role in Turandot with Michigan Opera Theatre and Orquesta Filarmónica de la UNAM, Isolde in Tristan und Isolde in concert in Zagreb, Croatia; Minnie in La fanciulla del West with Indianapolis Opera and Nashville Opera, Prima Donna/Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos at Festival Opera, Serena in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in concert with Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, and Verdi’s Requiem with The Händel Society of Dartmouth.

Kenneth Overton (Jake)

Kenneth Overton is lauded for blending his opulent baritone with magnetic and varied portrayals that seemingly “emanate from deep within body and soul.” As a leading baritone, Kenneth has sung with Opera Memphis, Nashville Opera, Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, Houston Ebony Opera Guild, Opera Delaware, Sacramento Opera, and Opera Carolina, with roles including Papageno (Die Zauberflöte), Sharpless (Madama Butterfly), Leporello (Don Giovanni), Schaunard (La bohème), Ping (Turandot) as well as Angelotti (Tosca), Bello and Sid (La Fancuilla del West).

Kenneth released his first solo CD, Been In De Storm So Long: Songs My Fathers Taught Mein homage to the spiritual tradition that has been formative in his artistic life.  In step with this legacy, Kenneth is co-founder and artistic director of Opera Noire of New York, a performing arts organization created to empower African-American artists to reach their full creative potential in a supportive environment.


Sabrina Elayne Carten (Maria)

A native of New York City, began her career with The Chautauqua Symphony singing The Strawberry Woman in Gershwin's timeless masterpiece Porgy and Bess. Ms. Carten has sung several roles in this opera to national and international acclaim. She made her New York City Opera debut as Maria and most recently her debut in The Royal Danish Opera Theater's historic performance as Serena. Ms. Carten has sung the role of Queenie on the national Broadway tour of Hal Prince's Showboat and was also The Blues Singer in One Night with Janis Joplin to rave reviews. Ms. Carten is the recipient of The Los Angeles Drama Critics' Cirlce Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her role as the Blues Singer as well as The NAACP Theater Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical.


Darren K. Stokes (Frazier/Undertaker)

Darren Stokes began to study piano until he was introduced to classical singing while studying for his undergraduate degree in chemistry at Norfolk State University. In 1995, after studying voice as an elective course, Mr. Stokes sang in various gospel groups touring the state of New York and performing in a few recordings for American and European vocalists. Darren has sung various comprimarios and lead roles from Count Ceprano, In Rigoletto, to Ferrando in the Amato Opera Theater’s production of Il Trovatore. In the spring of 2004 Darren made his debut as York in Michael Ching’s Opera Corps of Discovery at Opera Memphis and has, since then, returned to perform the role of Balthazar in Amahl and the Night Visitors. Darren’s transition from chemist to opera singer has definitely been successful. He is the winner of the Leo M. Rogers Award for outstanding apprentice while performing as an apprentice in the Sarasota Opera company and upcoming for Mr. Stokes are the following: concerts with The Buffalo Philharmonic (Romeo and Juliet) and Richmond Symphony (Dona nobis pacem).


Thomas Beard (Robbins)

Lyric Dramatic Baritone, Thomas Beard became the only African-American male singer to be personally chosen by Maestro & famous tenor Plácido Domingo to be a part of Washington National Opera's Plácido Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program working directly under the Maestro's tutelage.   He has appeared as Marcello in La Bohème, Papageno in The Magic Flute, Escamillo in Carmen, and in the title role of Gianni Schicchi.  Mr. Beard made his John F. Kennedy Center début as Corporal Morrel in Carmen Jones staring Vanessa Williams and conducted by Placido Domingo. He recently sang his first Giorgio Germont in WNO's version of La Traviata directed by Marta Domingo. In June of 2005, Mr. Beard débuted in the title role of Verdi's Rigoletto.   Most recently he performed a Patriot Day Celebration with the VA Medical Chorale & Symphony Orchestra where he performed with Gospel Great & Grammy winner Larnelle Harris and Metropolitan opera star Harolyn Blackwell. 


Alaina Brown (Clara)

Soprano Alaina Brown has gained National and International recognition for her interpretation of Handel and Mozart, and most recently her dramatic performance of The Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute. The Cincinnati Post named her as “The Young Artist to watch” following her debut with the Cincinnati Opera as Frasquita in Carmen.

Ms. Brown made her European debut as Mary Stone in a new production of The Devil and Daniel Webster, in Palermo, Italy. Currently, Ms. Brown is a cast member of the International tour of Porgy and Bess and has performed the role of The Strawberry Woman in several opera houses across Europe. Ms. Brown has made several appearances on the Detroit Opera House stage, most recently performing the role of Die Vertreter from Elektra.

She has been a guest soloist with The Dallas Symphony and The Orchestra Filarmonica Siciliana Palermo Italy, to name a few.


Bernard Damon Holcomb (Mingo/Crabman/Nelson)

In demand tenor Bernard Holcomb is quickly establishing himself as a promising operatic talent. This season, he made his début as Martin in Aaron Copeland's The Tender Land at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Recent engagements include appearances with Renée Fleming and Patrick Stewart in Second City’s Guide to the Opera, Il Duca in Rigoletto (Opera in the Heights) Alfredo in La traviata (Pine Mountain Festival), Nathanaël in Les contes d’Hoffmann (Chicago Lyric), Rodolfo in La bohéme (Civic Orchestra of Chicago), and Gastone in La traviata (Michigan Opera).


Cornelius V. Johnson III, tenor (Peter/Honey Man)

Tenor Cornelius Johnson’s voice has been hailed by critics as “expressive and soaring” (Post Standard). Recent performances have included Camille in The Merry Widow with the Lyric Theatre Illinois and Peter in Porgy and Bess with the Jacksonville Symphony. Other career highlights include performances of Don Josè in Carmen, with Opera North at the Ravinia Music Festival and as Tamino in The Magic Flute with the Lyric Opera of Chicago “Opera In The Neighborhoods.” Mr. Johnson has also been seen as Vuval in Troubled Island with the South Shore Opera, Spoletta in Tosca and Goro in Madama Butterfly with Connecticut Opera, and Peter the Honeyman in Porgy and Bess at the Opera Bastille, La Scala, Teatro Real, and the Bunkamura Theater (Tokyo Philharmonic).

A versatile artist, his concert repertoire includes performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Bach’s Magnificat, Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Mozart’s Requiem, and Wynton Marsalis’ Abyssinian Mass.


Samantha McElhaney (Strawberry Woman/Lily/Annie)

Samantha is an American Soprano whose voice has been described as "one of those dramatic, heroic, and epic, full-throated voices that comes along once in a lifetime."  

Operatic audiences have largely celebrated Samantha McElhaney for her most notable roles as Nella in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, 1st Lady in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, Elisetta in Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto, Barbarina in Monzart's Le Nozze di Figaro, and Strawberry Woman in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.   These signature roles have brought Ms. McElhaney to the Washington National Opera Company, the San Francisco Opera, the Royal Danish Opera, the Washington Symphony Orchestra, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Washington, DC), Carnegie Hall (New York, NY), the National Cathedral (Washington, DC), the Smithsonian (Washington, DC), the Citadel (Cairo, Eygpt), the National Symphony Orchestra, and the University of Maryland Opera Studio; earning her numerous press acknowledgements and remarkable performance reviews.


Michael Redding (Crown)

Atlanta-born baritone Michael Redding has been thrilling audiences in the US and Europe with his vocalism and theatrical presence. His experience with Porgy and Bess began in the summer of 2004 when he travelled throughout Europe with New York Harlem Productions Inc’s Porgy and Bess playing Crown and Jake. In addition he has performed these roles as well as the title role with the Evansville Philharmonic, Opera Carolina, the Natchez Festival of Music, New Orleans Opera, Seattle Opera, Virginia Opera and Atlanta Opera. Mr. Redding has appeared in a concert-version under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle with Berliner Philharmoniker as well as with Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Other operatic roles include the title role in DON GIOVANNI, Escamillo LA TRAGÉDIE DE CARMEN, Sacristan TOSCA, Betto GIANNI SCHICCHI, Gregorio ROMÉO ET JULIETTE, Schaunard LA BOHÈME, Eisenstein DIE FLEDERMAUS, Marco GIANNI SCHICCHI and Giuseppe THE GONDOLIERS.


James Meena, Music Director

James Meena, Toledo Opera’s Principal Artistic Advisor and Opera Carolina’s General Director & Principal Conductor, consistently earns critical acclaim for his artistic vision and dynamic presence on the podium. The breadth of his repertoire spans the standard works of Mozart, Puccini and Verdi to contemporary works including Carlisle Floyd’s Cold Sassy Tree and Victor Davies’ Transit of Venus. Conducting career highlights of recent seasons include new productions for Opera Carolina, performances with the Korean Broadcasting System Symphony in a nationally televised concert, performances with the National Symphony Orchestra, R.O.C., concerts with the Cairo Symphony (Egypt) in the new Cairo Opera House, and repeated engagements with Edmonton Opera. He has appeared as guest conductor with orchestras and opera companies in the United States, Italy, Taipei, Korea, Canada, and Mexico.


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