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Don’t miss “the sheer theatrical pizzazz” of PORGY AND BESS

The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess is an American classic, and it's only at Lyric until December 20. This is the can't-miss production of this holiday season, an opera of both "glory and grit" (Chicago Tribune). Read more of what the critics are saying in this post. 

The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess is an American classic, and it's only at Lyric until December 20. This is the can't-miss production of this holiday season, an opera of both "glory and grit" (Chicago Tribune).

"Lyric's vibrant revival of Porgy and Bess should give cheer to all who adore this tuneful slice of American verismo, along with audience members who have yet to discover what a major opera company with all its high-powered resources can bring to the Gershwins' masterpieceNone of the chopped-up, stripped-down versions of 'Porgy' seen on Broadway in recent years can hold a candle to the real thing. And, make no mistake, Lyric's is the real thing." - Chicago Tribune

"The Lyric Opera’s revival of Gershwin's 'Porgy and Bess' is a thing of beauty not to be missed. More than that, it’s a ringing affirmation of this iconic American stage work as a great opera." - Chicago on the Aisle

"Lyric Opera has plenty of something with a moving, vocally resplendent 'Porgy and Bess'" - Chicago Classical Review

 "Kudos to the Lyric Opera of Chicago for reviving this masterpiece. I can't think of a finer, more universally appealing work to introduce people to the majesty of opera." - Chicago Critic

"The Lyric production is the first I've seen that fully captures the power of the Gershwin classic beyond a reprise of the famous songs. The singing is glorious throughout but the impact of the story cements this production as a joy." - Chicagoland Theater Reviews 

"The music and story of Porgy & Bess stuck with me long after I'd left the opera house, and if you're lucky enough to catch this production, it will do the same for you." - Gapers Block

The perfect Porgy and Bess: Eric Owens and Adina Aaron

"The reason to see this show is, unsurprisingly, Porgy and Bess. Eric Owens, soon to tackle Wagner for the Lyric, has an amazing voice, but he's also an expressive actor of depth and subtlety....And Adina Aaron makes Bess a tragic victim of drugs and of the abusive men in her life." Crain's Chicago Business

Eric Owens as Porgy has "the towering strength of a mighty oak" with "unfailing musical and dramatic integrity" - Chicago Tribune

"With his vast voice and burly physique, Eric Owens was born to play the role of Porgy." - Chicago Classical Review

"As Porgy, bass-baritone Eric Owens fills the house as he breaks hearts." - New City

"Listening to Owens’ rich, expressive bass-baritone is pleasure enough" - Chicago Sun-Times

"...Adina Aaron combined vocal and physical allure with vulnerability." - Chicago Tribune

"Adina Aaron's Bess is a concoction mixed of beauty and confusion....Her lovely figure and beautiful face make it easy to believe that her Bess could be perpetually objectified." - New City

"Adina Aaron’s Bess offered a sexy, alluring soprano, desperately torn between her life as a junkie and that of Porgy’s woman." - Le Bon Travel and Culture

"The chemistry between Owens and Aaron is authentic and convincing, a critical component to the revival's success." - Chicagoland Theater Reviews

"...one feels very much in the presence of true lovers as Aaron delivers a heart-felt 'I Loves You, Porgy' and Owens’ proud protector of this beauty-in-need declares ardently: 'Bess, You Is My Woman Now.'" - Chicago on the Aisle 

"As interpreted by bass-baritone Eric Owens, Porgy has a voice and a presence that are undeniable, and soprano Adina Aaron's portrayal of Bess is as heartbreaking as it is believable." - Gapers Block

The colorful citizens of Catfish Row

"The Catfish Row community is a major component of Porgy and Bess and has some of the best music, and the singers rose to the challenge with terrific ensemble vocalism, not least in the hurricane and funeral scenes." -Chicago Classical Review

"Porgy and Bess is a story of social issues in a community as much as a love story, and the strength of this society was vividly delivered by the chorus, whether picnicking or taking refuge from a hurricane." - Chicagoist

"Jermaine Smith's Sportin' Life is manically self-serving; Smith creates the character anew, moving beautifully, his deviations from the score excusable in light of his achievement." - New City

"Eric Greene's Crown is wonderfully wild and narcissistic, with a voice and body to match." - New City

"Ryan Opera Center member Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi made her company debut as Clara, opening the evening with a lovely, heartfelt rendering of 'Summertime,' that eased us into the Catfish Row milieu. Norman Garrett was a hearty presence as her husband Jake, delivering an energetic 'A Woman Is a Sometime Thing.'" - Chicago Classical Review

"As the wily, wise Maria, contralto Gwendolyn Brown bossed the children and bore stoic witness to the adult pain around her." - Chicago Sun-Times

"...soprano Karen Slack, as Serena, lit up the house with her gospel-infused prayer over the languishing Bess, 'Oh, Doctor Jesus.' - Chicago on the Aisle

The Chorus "delivered the vocal goods splendidly while putting a dramatically credible face on each denizen of Catfish Row." -  Chicago Tribune

The Chorus was "bursting with buoyant energy" - Chicago Sun-Times 

The Gershwins' amazing music

 

"Gershwin's colorful score sparkled and surged under conductor Ward Stare" - Chicago Sun-Times

"Those same qualities of natural pacing and emotional empathy also apply to the musical arc constructed by conductor Ward Stare, whose apt tempos and artful points of dramatic emphasis contribute to an unfaltering sense of continuity." - Chicago on the Aisle

"Stare clearly knows his way around the Gershwin idiom and he drew a performance from the Lyric orchestra that did equal justice to the score's melodic richness and rhythmic punch." - Chicago Tribune

The Lyric Opera Orchestra "imbues Gershwin’s bluesy score with the hearty, homey flavors of soul food." - Chicago on the Aisle

"Dynamic young conductor Ward Stare (a former principal trombonist with the Lyric Opera Orchestra) has a deep affinity for this music and for the players, his former colleagues. He is able to draw a phenomenal performance of Gershwin’s work from the Lyric Orchestra. It embodies a subtlety and style that many in the audience have never encountered in this music before. Who knew there was so much soul in that orchestra pit?" - Chicago Stage Review

Photo credits:

  • Porgy and Bess production photos by Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago
 

An Insider's Guide to PORGY AND BESS

Everything you need to know about Lyric's upcoming production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (on stage November 17-December 20): video and audio previews, articles, photos, and more.

 

"Summertime, and the livin' is easy …" With iconic songs that have become jazz and pop standards, Porgy and Bess (on stage from November 17-December 20) is filled with some of George Gershwin's most beloved music. See the iconic American opera in this sumptuous production that brings the colorful characters of Catfish Row to life. Eric Owens stars as Porgy, the good man with a heart of gold who would do anything for the troubled Bess (Adina Aaron). But, when tempted by a former love and her drug addiction, can she remain true to him?

Porgy and Bess also stars Jermaine Smith (Sportin' Life), Eric Greene (Crown), and Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi (Clara). The production is conducted by Ward Stare and directed by Francesca Zambello.

Click here to read the full plot synopsis, director's note, and more
in the complete Porgy and Bess program book. 

 

Video features on the production and cast

 

 

 

Articles with insights from the cast and creative team

Don’t miss “the sheer theatrical pizzazz” of Porgy and Bess 
Critics love Lyric's production of The Gershwins' masterpiece. This is the can't-miss production of this holiday season, an opera of both "glory and grit" (Chicago Tribune). The Chicago Classical Review raves, "Lyric Opera has plenty of something with a moving, vocally resplendent 'Porgy and Bess'." And Chicago Critic's Tom Williams says, "I can't think of a finer, more universally appealing work to introduce people to the majesty of opera." READ MORE

Behind the scenes with assistant conductor Matthew Piatt
The extraordinary Matthew Piatt is in his sixth season at Lyric in the role of assistant conductor.  For Lyric's current production of Porgy and Bess he has been one of two pianists, which means he does everything from playing for rehearsals to fine-tuning diction to help with musical preparation for the show—including being able to do a little bit of singing himself! Learn more about how he and Lyric's other backstage heroes work closely with the conductor and singers to get it right for every performance. READ MORE


Chuck Coyl on putting the fight into Porgy and Bess
There's much more to Porgy and Bess than its famously beautiful and evocative music. As fight director for Lyric's revival of the all-American Gershwins' opera, Chuck Coyl ensures that explosively violent moments in the story of Catfish Row look authentic to the audience and feel authentic to the performers - while making sure that nobody gets hurt and everyone keeps singing. READ MORE

 

The Incomparable Eric Owens: Lyric's future Porgy and Wotan is a king onstage and off
Porgy and Bess star Eric Owens was the cover story of the Fall 2014 issue of Lyric Opera News. In this profile, he talks about preparing for Porgy and his role as a Lyric Unlimited Community Ambassador. READ MORE

 



Joy in Singing: Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi debuts at Lyric in Porgy and Bess
First-year Ryan Opera Center member Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi makes her Lyric debut as Clara in Porgy and Bess. The character sings what is arguably the opera's most famous aria, "Summertime."  
READ MORE

Chorister Profile: Kenneth Nichols
Bass-baritone Kenneth Nichols has been a member of the Lyric Opera Chorus for 13 years. We caught up with Nichols this summer in between performances in the chorus of San Francisco Opera's Show Boat,  (a co-production with Lyric Opera, Houston Grand Opera and Washington National Opera), to talk about his experiences as a singer and his thoughts on Lyric's upcoming production of Porgy and Bess. READ MORE

You can never get enough “Summertime”

 "Summertime" has moved beyond the world of opera to become one of the most beloved songs in American music. It's been covered more than 25,000 times...and still counting! This post on our blog Lyric Lately gathered some of the most beautiful and unexpected covers of the song from artists like Miles Davis, The Doors, and Sting.  
READ MORE

Porgy and Bess: The hits just keep on coming

Whether your first love is opera, jazz, American folk songs, or musical theater, you'll find that melodies abound this November and December when Lyric Opera produces The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. READ MORE

On the Couch: Porgy and Bess

The complicated love story of Porgy and Bess resonates down through the generations. Here’s a fictional peek inside the marriage counseling sessions of one of their great-granddaughters. READ MORE 

Opera 101: One-hit wonders
Porgy and Bess was Gershwin's only opera, which puts him in the small but distinguished category of composers that only wrote one opera that became a major hit. Also on the list? Beethoven and Dvořák, among others. READ MORE 

Get to know Porgy and Bess star Eric Owens

 

  

Porgy and Bess Audio Preview

Music director Sir Andrew Davis shares the synopsis and excerpts from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics.

From Vodník to Wotan: Eric Owens Talks Opera, Comedy, and…Frogs?

A Chicago favorite, Eric Owens is currently starring at Lyric in Dvořák's dark fairy tale Rusalka (on stage through March 16). He found time to answer a few questions about Rusalka, Wotan, and what he likes to do when he's not on stage!

Eric_Owens_Vodnik

An international star and Chicago favorite, Eric Owens is currently starring at Lyric in Dvořák's dark fairy tale Rusalka (on stage through March 16). He'll be a very familiar face over the next few seasons. He's back as Porgy in Porgy and Bess in 2014-15 and makes his role debut as Wotan in Lyric's new Ring cycle starting in 2016-17. Beyond his work on stage, Owens has just committed to be one of two inaugural Lyric Unlimited Community Ambassadors (along with Rusalka co-star Ana María Martínez). He found time to answer a few questions about Rusalka, Wotan, and what he likes to do when he's not on stage!

This is your role debut as Vodník in Rusalka—what has been the most fun part of the role and the most challenging?

The most fun thing is I get to be this frog-like water creature, which is just kooky and awesome.

The most challenging thing is singing in Czech.  It's a language that's so incredibly new. In school we take French, Italian and German and in opera are introduced to Russian just because of the repertoire. It's been wonderful, but it's quite a challenge, especially when there are syllables with absolutely no vowels and you're supposed to figure that out.

How about those webbed feet? Do you enjoy working with elaborate costumes and prosthetics? 

It's great! Months ago, they took a mold of my arms and my feet, so they fit perfectly. They are not a hindrance whatsoever. It makes the character come to life for you and you know exactly what you need to be doing. I've been looking at geckos and salamanders and stuff—I'm not joking—to see how they move!

In some ways, this seems like a Rusalka dream cast - can you give a bit of insight into the rehearsal process with such an amazing group of singers?

When I saw the cast list I thought, "This is going to be great." You have these people who give on stage, and they are not afraid to give the piece its due and whatever the director comes up with. It's a group of good people, fun people who take the work seriously, but don't take themselves seriously. And that's a great combination. 

What do you find most exciting about David McVicar's vision for this work?

He makes it very human, and even though it's a fairy tale and even though my character—all night long—talks about how terrible those humans are, Vodník and Rusalka are embodying very human characteristics and qualities and idiosyncrasies. He brings quite a bit of earthiness to it. It's something to sink your teeth into.

It's funny, this is the first time that I've worked with David even though we've known each other for about 15 years. We've been talking about working together ever since then and finally we are. It's been great; I'm so thrilled. I hope the occasion presents itself where I can work with him again. 

Can you share one moment in Rusalka that Chicago audiences should definitely watch for?

I wish I could see it! I know it's gorgeous, because when we were rehearsing without the lighting, I think I was talking with J'nai  [Bridges, a current member of Lyric's Ryan Opera Center ] and I said, "That looks amazing under the work lights, so once the lighting designer gets a hold of it, it's going to be stunning." And from what people tell me, it is!  

Can you give us any insight into any other Ring preparations you might be doing as you're starting to think about what will certainly be an epic journey with your role debut as Wotan?

I'll tell you one thing, when I was doing Alberich [ed. note, Owens portrayed the dwarf Alberich, another character in the Ring cycle, at the Metropolitan Opera to great acclaim], I noted to myself that Alberich and Wotan are—in some ways—two sides of the same coin. These beings that are frustrated, and there's something missing from their lives and they are out looking for it on the outside, both of them. Just look at all the philandering Wotan does. When I'm approaching that, I try to remember, "What's this guy searching for?" Here he is, basically the Bill Gates-Warren Buffett version of things, and he's unhappy as hell. What is he really searching for and what is he not finding in the comfort of all these many females?

I can't wait to see how this all unfolds, to go on this journey again with the Ring cycle but with a different character being my focus. And, of course, to actually be in Die Walküre is something! In the two Ring cycle productions I've done, I've never seen Die Walküre so to see what's going on in that world and to inhabit it as a performer is something I look forward to. 

In terms of pre-operatic careers, it's well-known that you used to play the oboe. If you had to imagine an alternative, non-musical career for yourself, what would it be?

I still am an oboe player. I'm a recovering oboe player!

Stand-up comedy. We went over to Second City the other night, and it was awesome. I would love to do something like that, that kind of comedy-based theater troupe would be amazing. Those guys are brilliant! Brilliant!

What do you like to do or see in Chicago when you have some time off from rehearsals and performing?

Now that the rehearsal period is over, I'm going to check out some blues clubs and hopefully the weather will warm up a bit. I'll probably go to some CSO concerts and maybe go to another Second City show, but blues definitely—this is the place! 

Photo credit: Todd Rosenberg Photography/Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Twitter is abuzz about Lyric's new RING

Opera geeks around the world were beyond excited about news of Lyric's new Ring cycle, starring Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde and Eric Owens as Wotan, just announced on Friday, January 17.

Opera geeks around the world were beyond excited about news of Lyric's new Ring cycle, starring Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde and Eric Owens as Wotan, just announced on Friday, January 17.  (Read a short recap of the press conference here.) As Christine said, "I'm ready to get my breastplate on and do it!"

View the story "Ringheads rejoice! Wagner's epic cycle returns to Lyric's stage" on Storify

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