First Impressions: Porgy and Bess, Alvin Theatre, New York (1935)

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The Independent Culture

Porgy and Bess represents George Gershwin's longing to compose an American folk opera on a suitable theme. Although Mr Heyward is the author of the libretto and shares with Ira Gershwin the credit for the lyrics, and although Mr Mamoulian has mounted the director's box, the evening is unmistakably George Gershwin's personal holiday.

In these circumstances, the province of a drama critic is to report on the transmutation of Porgy out of drama into music theatre. Let it be said at once that Mr Gershwin has contributed something glorious to the spirit of the Heywards' community legend. To the ears of a theatre critic Mr Gershwin's music gives a personal voice to Porgy's loneliness when, in a crowd of pitying neighbours, he learns that Bess has vanished into the remote North.

Turning Porgy into opera has resulted in a deluge of casual remarks that have to be thoughtfully intoned and that amazingly impede the action. There are intimations in Porgy and Bess that Mr Gershwin is still easiest in mind when he is writing songs with choruses. He, and his present reviewer, are on familiar ground when he is writing a droll tune like "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing", or a lazy darky solo like "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'", or made-to-order spirituals like "Oh, de Lawd Shake de Heaven," or Sportin' Life's hot-time number entitled "There's a Boat That's Leavin' Soon for New York." If Mr Gershwin does not enjoy his task most in moments like this, his audience does. They are worth an hour of formal music transitions.

Promoting Porgy to opera involves considerable incidental drudgery for theatregoers who agree with Mark Twain that "classical music is better than it sounds" But Mr Gershwin has found a personal voice that was inarticulate in the original play. The fear and the pain go deeper in Porgy and Bess than they did in penny plain Porgy.

Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times

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