(Richard Morrison's article appeared in The Times of London, October 23.)
Porgy and Bess at the Millennium Centre, Cardiff
The only full-time opera company in Africa, Cape Town Opera, has never before toured the UK. On the strength of its glorious Gershwin it should be invited back — soon and often. At a time when Sir Willard White and others are setting up long-overdue projects to persuade young British black and Asian musicians that you don’t have to be white to make a career in opera, this ten-year-old company is a stunning exemplar — especially coming from a country where, only three decades ago, non-whites couldn’t even buy a ticket.
Christine Crouse’s vivacious staging is everything one had expected and hoped for. The Catfish Row of DuBose Heyward’s Charleston-based story has been transposed to another community with plenty of nuttin’: an apartheid-era Soweto township — although the rickety scaffolding, crumbling façades and corrugated shacks of Michael Mitchell’s set could be any shanty-town, any time.
What animates the stage are the epic crowd scenes, extrovert acting and the exuberant movement. Even in those great funeral chorales — heart-rending laments, with 50 voices weaving soulful improvisations over Gershwin’s chords and an on-stage blues trumpeter adding his anguished wail — the loose-limbed spirit of African dance is never far away. True, the production doesn’t exactly avoid cliché or sentimentality. There’s a raised-fist salute from the entire cast, for instance, as Xolela Sixaba’s great-hearted Porgy sets off at the final curtain to rescue Lisa Daltirus’s raddled Bess from degradation for the umpteenth time. But the show is done with such verve that you’d need a heart of concrete not to come out smiling.
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