The Mail on Sunday - Event - - CLASSICAL -

Lon­don Col­i­seum Un­til Nov 17

Ge­orge Gersh­win went to an early grave be­liev­ing his big­gest project, Porgy And Bess, to be a fail­ure. So suc­cess­ful is this fine new pro­duc­tion that I kept think­ing: ‘If only he could have seen this.’

In a gen­er­ous trib­ute, his great ri­val Irv­ing Ber­lin said: ‘We were just song­writ­ers; Ge­orge was al­ways a com­poser.’ The truth of this com­ment is ob­vi­ous in ev­ery bar, be­cause, thanks to some ex­cep­tional play­ing by English Na­tional Opera’s much put-upon orches­tra, and the id­iomatic, im­pas­sioned con­duct­ing of John Wil­son, it’s Gersh­win’s vividly colour­ful or­ches­tra­tions that con­stantly tickle the ear.

Gersh­win had to have his first big hit, Rhap­sody In Blue, or­ches­trated for him. A dozen years later he could do the job him­self, thanks to in­ces­sant study, in­clud­ing lessons from that mas­ter or­ches­tra­tor Mau­rice Ravel. When Ravel asked Gersh­win what he earned and Gersh­win told him, Ravel said he’d bet­ter take a few lessons from him!

The Gersh­win es­tate has al­ways in­sisted on black singers for Porgy And Bess, ex­cept for the two white po­lice­men, who, in­ter­est­ingly, and no doubt de­lib­er­ately, never sing a note.

The power of the cho­rus is at times over­whelm­ing. How well Gersh­win stud­ied AfricanAmer­i­can re­li­gious ser­vices, and how bril­liantly their in­tense at­mos­phere is re­pro­duced here.

In­evitably, one or two of the main roles are a bit un­der­played. While Eric Greene is com­mand­ing both phys­i­cally and vo­cally as Porgy, Nicole Ca­bell’s Bess is un­der­pow­ered. 20 Sim­i­larly, Fred­er­ick Bal­len­tine’s Sport­ing Life lacks both charisma and a comic touch, es­pe­cially in It Ain’t Nec­es­sar­ily So, but Nmon Ford is an out­stand­ing Crown. It’s the sup­port that’s so ex­cep­tional, led by La­to­nia Moore’s un­miss­able Ser­ena. Ron­ald Samm as Pe­ter the Honey­man, Nozuko Teto as the Straw­berry Woman, and Chaz’men Wil­liams-Ali as the Crab Man con­trib­ute cameos of the ut­most dis­tinc­tion.

James Robin­son’s slum may be a bit too posh, and the cos­tumes too smart, but here is a real opera di­rec­tor knock­ing ev­ery­thing into shape with true pro­fes­sion­al­ism. And, doubt­less thanks to the in­volve­ment of the Met as co-pro­duc­ers, ENO have, for them, that great rar­ity – a bank­able, re­viv­able show that’s ap­par­ently 90 per cent sold out.

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