If you missed the recent performance at The Music Center at Strathmore of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” and featured an all-Black cast in the major singing roles, you missed a jewel of a concert.
Baritone Kevin Deas in the role of Porgy, Chauncey Packer as Sportin’ Life, Aundi Moore as Serena, Michael Redding in the role of Crown and NaGuanda Nobles as Carla and Maria electrified the stage. And while the microphone for Bess, sung brilliantly by Soprano Marlissa Hudson, could have been turned up just a few more digits, she strutted across the stage in a red velvet gown while landing notes that only a select few of vocalists can reach.
The opera, conducted by National Philharmonic Chorale Artistic Director Stan Engebretson, will remain with this writer for many years to come. With his baton punctuating the air, Engebretson maintained control of the vocalists, along with a 180-member National Philharmonic Chorale and members of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Concert Choir.
Several standing ovations at the conclusion of the opera confirmed the stellar work that took place on the stage.
“We’ve done a lot of Gershwin’s pieces, but I love this one in particular because it’s such a great story,” Engebretson said. “Every person’s story is in this work. It touches all and the music represents the American story: jazz, gospel, spirituals and the soul of the Gullah people. It is a piece that moves everybody.”
Moore, a 17-year professional and Bowie resident, said the work reminds her that people are the same, despite differences of color.
“I hope the audience will leave the show mindful of the fact that people are people, no matter what their race or nationality,” she said. “We all have families, we love, we experience drama and tragedy and we all bleed the same blood.”
“I used to run away from singing ‘Porgy and Bess’ but then realized that if I don’t sing it, who will?” she noted. “We have to keep our history alive and relevant, especially if we don’t want to see history be repeated. When you look at America today and the many challenges we face, it reflects many of the themes addressed in Gershwin’s classic.”
Samuel Bonds, a voice teacher at Ellington and the chorale director, said opportunities like working with the National Philharmonic and professional vocalists helps his youth discover their own talents.
“Once our children see and hear their growth, there’s nothing that can stop them,” he said. “They are blossoming, the boys’ voices are changing and they are falling in love with music and making music. That’s the best thing any teacher can do for their students.”
Listening to this performance made this writer leave the Center singing the songs of Gershwin that have positively impacted the lives of millions from sea to shining sea. What a marvelous ride!