Gershwins’ ‘Porgy and Bess’ airs Oct. 17 and 20

In the 1920s, George Gershwin had an ambition to compose an American opera.

In 1926, he read a powerful novel by an upper-class white South Carolinian, DuBose Heyward, called PORGY. Written the previous year, it was a series of vignettes of life in a black Charleston ghetto called Catfish Row, where a cripple named Porgy falls blindly in love with a woman named Bess, whose inconstant affections both torment and inflame him.

Bess is torn between the rough men of Catfish Row, like Crown, who offers her a more glamorous life, and Porgy, who can only offer her his pure devotion.

Eventually, she is lured to New York by Sportin’ Life, a gambler and drug dealer, and Porgy begins a quixotic journey to find her.

Having found the source material he was looking for, Gershwin took many years and constant negotiations to put together the team that would develop what he defined as “a folk tale.” But by 1933, Heyward and George’s brother, Ira, were on board to collaborate on the lyrics. George went to South Carolina to study the native Gullah culture and absorbed much of its idiom into his complex “folk opera.”

Airs Oct. 17 at 10 p.m. on WCNY and Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. on PLUS.


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