The BSO and a stellar cast of soloists deliver a superb performance of the opera Porgy and Bess

Tanglewood, Friday, August 26

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, an opera in three acts by George Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, Ira Gershwin

The Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bramwell Tovey and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus conducted by John Oliver

Alfred Walker (bass-baritone) as Porgy; Laquita Mitchell (soprano) as Bess; Nicole Cabell (soprano) as Clara; Alison Buchanan (soprano) as Lily and Strawberry Woman; Marquita Lister (soprano) as Serena; Krysty Swann (mezzo-soprano) as Annie; Gwendolyn Brown (contralto) as Maria; Calvin Lee (tenor) as Mingo, Nelson, and Crab Man; Jermaine Smith (tenor) as Sportin’ Life; Chauncey Packer (tenor) as Peter; Gregg Baker (baritone) as Crown; Patrick Blackwell (baritone) as Jim and the Undertaker; Leon Williams (baritone) as Jake; John Fulton (baritone) as Robbins; Robert Honeysucker (baritone) as Frazier; and actors Michael Aronov, Matthew Heck, Jeremiah Kissel, Ralph Petillo, and Brandon Griffin as detective, policeman, coroner, Archdale, and Scipio.

Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck

Last Friday night in the Shed at Tanglewood, a magnificent concert performance of Porgy and Bess started with the Boston Symphony Orchestra delivering a syncopated rendition of city life in Charleston, South Carolina, in the late 1920sthe jazz age. Then the conductor, Bramwell Tovey, jumped off the podium, sat down at an upright piano and dashed off some ragtime before getting back to the podium in time for the opening strains of the iconic “Summertime.” Nicole Cabell played the role of Clara, and her rendition of the oft-sung lullaby was thrilling, seductive, even breathtaking.

The entire cast brought wonderful voices and superb musicianship to the now-classic American opera by George Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin. Alfred Walker was warm and genuine as Porgy, but he had a toughness, too, and his voice is rich and lustrous. Laquita Mitchell portrayed a damaged but resilient Bess, shifting her allegiance from one man to the next as the challenges of her life dictated. Mitchell’s voice is soaring and supple, well-suited to the score and very well-suited to the duets with Walker; they sounded wonderful together.

Even though the opera was minimally staged, and the singers were in evening clothes, not in costume, the singers were actors enough to portray the compelling narrative of addiction, danger, poverty, and love in a powerful way that had the audience rapt throughout the performance.

Porgy and Bess takes place in Catfish Row, a slum inhabited by the African-American laborers who work on the docks and their families, a hard-scrabble existence that turns some of the characters to the solace to be found in “happy dust,” others to gambling, and still others to drinking. The story begins with the men of Catfish Row joining in a crap game; Porgy, who is disabled, joins the game, as does Crown, a tough dockhand who is accompanied by his girlfriend, Bess. Crown is drunk, gets in a fight and kills Robbins, another of the gamblers. Crown flees, leaving Bess to fend for herself. She buys some “happy dust” from Sportin’ Life, and then finds shelter with the kind Porgy.

Some of the most memorable music in the opera is part of the wake and funeral for Robbins, who is mourned by his widow, Serena, the luminous Marquita Lister. The call-and-response pattern of black gospel music is amplified and embellished in Gershwin’s composition,

A later scene takes place at a community picnic on Kittiwah Island, the setting for Sportin’ Life’s showstopper “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” a magnificent performance by tenor Jermaine Smith, amplified by his humor and showmanship. As the opera continues, the relationship between Bess and Porgy, and the day-to-day lives of the other Catfish Row residents, become more fraught, more challenging, until the poignant conclusion.  

Every one of the soloists delivered a fine performance; Gregg Baker as Crown managed to be intimidating while singing beautifully, and Gwendolyn Brown was warm and expressive as the strong matriarch Maria. The soloists were supported by the always-excellent Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Bramwell Tovey is an animated, lively, fully engaged conductor, and a contributor to the sense of narrative storytelling that was such a rich and rewarding aspect of Friday’s performance, and of course the fine musicians of the BSO lent polish to the score, which still sounds fresh and innovative.

Friday evening was the first time the Boston Symphony Orchestra has ever performed Gershwin’s great masterpiece, the blues-and-jazz-inflected Porgy and Bess. Described by the composer as an “American folk opera,” Porgy and Bess premiered on Broadway in 1935; the version presented on Friday was the restored 1935 version.

It was disappointing to have the last weekend of the BSO at Tanglewood cut short, but Friday’s performance was extraordinary and an exceptional opportunity to hear Porgy and Bess produced on this large scale. It was truly memorable, and for this concert-goer, a fine end to a lovely summer of music at Tanglewood.


For information on the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, September 2 to 4, or the Tanglewood Wine and Food Classic, September 1 to 4, visit


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Gil Shaham and Morgan Freeman illuminate Film Night at Tanglewood

Film Night at Tanglewood

August 20, 2011

Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck

[LENOX, Mass.] Tanglewood was a marvelous place to be last Saturday evening, from the very pleasant late summer weather to John William’s highly entertaining Film Night performance with the Boston Pops Orchestra. While Williams and the Pops are reason enough to venture to the Shed on an August night, Saturday’s performance also boasted two wonderful guests: actor Morgan Freeman and violinist Gil Shaham. Freeman’s narration of a William Faulkner story was pure pleasure to hear and Shaham’s beautiful playing added depth and poignancy to the score of Schindler’s List.

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Barrington Stage presents The Game, an elegant, treacherous musical

The Game

A Barrington Stage Company presentation of a musical in two acts

Book and lyrics by Amy Powers and David Topchik; music by Megan Cavallari

Directed by Julianne Boyd

Music direction by Darren Cohen

Choreography by Daniel Pelzig

Cast in order of appearance:

Sarah Stevens as Cecile

Christianne Tisdale as Madame de Volanges

Rachel York as Marquise de Merteuil

Graham Rowat as Vicomte de Valmont

Amy Decker as Madame de Tourvel

Chris Peluso as Danceny

Joy Franz as Madame de Rosemonde

Taylor Anderson, Michael Hewitt, Stephen Horst, Analisa Leaming, Hannah Richter, Amanda Salvatore, and Michael Wessels as Ensemble

Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck

The Game, a musical based on the eighteenth-century epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, is a rich, elegant evocation of the excesses rife in the French aristocracy in the years before the French Revolution: the Marquise de Merteuil and her former lover the Vicomte de Valmont plot, manipulate, and scheme, but do it in sumptuous surroundings, within the framework of courtly etiquette, however duplicitous. Barrington Stage Company first presented the world premiere of The Game in 2003, and this summer’s gorgeously appointed, fascinating new production, skillfully directed by Julianne Boyd, does not disappoint.

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The world premiere of The Best of Enemies is must-see theater at Barrington Stage Company

The Best of Enemies

By Mark St. Germain

Directed by Julianne Boyd

Cast: John Bedford Lloyd as C.P. Ellis; Aisha Hinds as Ann Atwater; Clifton Duncan as Bill Riddick; and Susan Wands as Mary Ellis

Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck

[Pittsfield, Mass.]—In 1971, when C.P. Ellis, a Ku Klux Klan member, and Ann Atwater, an African-American community activist, were asked to work together to help integrate the Durham, North Carolina, public schools, it was doubtful the two could be civil to each other, but in an extraordinary turn of events, they became lifelong friends. Mark St. Germain’s riveting new play, at the Barrington Stage Company Mainstage now through August 6, tells the true story of this remarkable relationship in an excellent production notable for the superb performances of Aisha Hinds and John Bedford Lloyd as Atwater and Ellis, under the creative and insightful direction of Julianne Boyd. 404 File Not Found

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The Hound of the Baskervilles is a howling success at Shakespeare & Company

The Hound of the Baskervilles

By Steven Canny and John Nicholson

Directed by Tony Simotes

Cast: Jonathan Croy, Josh Aaron McCabe, Ryan Winkles

Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck

[Lenox, Mass.]—The new Shakespeare & Company production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, a wacky adaptation by Steven Canny and John Nicholson of the classic Sherlock Holmes story, is laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end. A deft directing job by Tony Simotes and terrific performances from Jonathan Croy, Josh Aaron McCabe, and Ryan Winkles had the audience howling with laughter. The Hound of the Baskervilles plays in Founders’ Theatre through September 4.

The three actors—aided and abetted by clever costumes, inventive props, an assortment of accents, and an amazing amount of energyplay sixteen roles in the side-splittingly funny production.  

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A.R. Gurney’s delightful comedy Sylvia, a play about man’s best friend, lights up the Main Stage at Berkshire Theatre Festival


By A.R. Gurney

Directed by Anders Cato

Cast: David Adkins as Greg; Walter Hudson as Tom/Phyllis/Leslie; Jurian Hughes as Kate; and Rachel Bay Jones as Sylvia

Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck

[STOCKBRIDGE, Mass.]—In A.R. Gurney’s very funny SylviaGreg, a middle-aged businessman disenchanted with his job and somewhat adrift in life, finds a stray dog in the parka dog named Sylvia who absolutely adores him, much to the consternation of his rather rigid wife Kate. The skilled cast, with spot-on direction by Anders Cato, tells the story of this unique threesome in an absolutely delightful production on the Main Stage at Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge; the show runs through July 30.

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The Boston Pops delivered a lively, entertaining afternoon of Broadway classics including a salute to Cole Porter

Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck

[LENOX, Mass.]—It was a glorious afternoon at Tanglewood, as the throngs of people gathered on the lawn (clustered under the spreading trees for welcome shade or soaking up the sunshine on picnic blankets) can attest. Conductor Keith Lockhart led the Boston Pops Orchestra in an entertaining and engaging program of music by American composers and songwriters with a distinct nod to Broadway, beginning with Richard Rodgers and including Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, and then, after the intermission, a vibrant salute to Cole Porter, with Broadway stars Jason Danieley and Kelli O’Hara providing spectacular vocals.

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A classic novel is charmingly deconstructed in pride@prejudice at Chester Theatre Company

Pride @ Prejudice

By Daniel Elihu Kramer

Directed by Ron Bashford

Cast: Aubrey Saverino, Jay Stratton, Gisela Chipe, Colin Ryan, and Michele Tauber

Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck

Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice is given a number of twenty-first century twists in pride@prejudice by Daniel Elihu Kramer, now delightfully on stage at the Chester Theatre Company through July 17. Five accomplished and appealing actors play more than thirty roles: most of the characters are familiar from the novel, but this version also has bloggers, scholars, commentators, and Jane Austen herself appearing from time to time.

Die-hard Austen fans will not be disappointed; this new play includes all the twists and turns of her original storyline, and newcomers to the plot will easily follow the romantic adventures of the Bennet sisters, helped by the witty asides and notes on the book delivered throughout the play.

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The Boston Pops salute Cole Porter in a Sunday afternoon concert featuring Broadway stars Kelli O’Hara and Jason Danieley

[LENOX, Mass.]—Perfect summer weather is in the forecast for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s second weekend at Tanglewood, which promises to be a stellar one, from the Boston Pops Orchestra salute to the great songwriter Cole Porter to an all-Sibelius evening with the BSO to a pair of concerts of Ravel’s compositions for solo piano performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

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The BSO begins the Tanglewood season this weekend with a festive all-Italian program on Friday, Berlioz’s Requiem on Saturday, and guest violinist Joshua Bell on Sunday

[LENOX, Mass.]—Pack the
picnic basket and load up the lawn chairs, it’s time to resume those idyllic
evenings—and afternoons—on the lawn at Tanglewood. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, led by acclaimed conductor Charles Dutoit, and joined by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, will open the orchestra’s 2011 Tanglewood season with an all-Italian program featuring works by Bellini, Verdi, Rossini, and Respighi, drawn from the operatic and symphonic repertoire, on Friday, July 8, at 8:30 p.m. in the Shed. Soprano Angela Meade, mezzo-soprano Kristine Jepson, tenor Roberto De Biasio, and bass James Morris will perform; the program includes opera excerpts from Act I of Bellini’s Norma, the trio from Act 3 of Verdi’s I Lombardi, Respighi’s resplendent Pines of Rome and Rossini’s famous Overture to William Tell.

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