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Introduction: Porgy and Bess: An American Voice

The historic saga of George Gershwin's immortal American opera is traced from the publication of DuBose Heyward's novel PORGY in 1924, continuing on to the opera's premiere in 1935 and the many legendary productions that followed through the decades. Kitty Carlisle Hart, Francis Gershwin Godowsky, and scholars share their insights and memories. Narrated by Ruby Dee, this documentary features many cast members in interviews and performance clips, including Leontyne Price, William Warfield, Maya Angelou, Diahann Carroll, Grace Bumbry, and Willard White.

Porgy and Bess album

The cover of the 1942 album, featuring Anne Brown and Todd Duncan.

GREAT PERFORMANCES on the Web honors America's premiere opera with a look back at the talented people responsible for its creation and many triumphant productions. In Behind the Scenes, writer John Ardoin reveals the opera's narrow escape from the musical comedy genre. In Meet the Artists, William Warfield, Porgy in the 1952 production, talks to Ardoin about the opera's place in America's musical and racial history, and biographies offer information on other artists featured in the documentary. In A Look at the Work, Ardoin discusses "Porgy"'s roots in the Charleston of DuBose Heyward's novel, and he examines George Gershwin's efforts to reach the pantheon of operatic greatness. Our Resources section provides a guide for further online exploration.

Video Clip Maya Angelou

See a QuickTime movie of Maya Angelou discussing her experience touring Europe as Ruby in the 1953-54 production of "Porgy and Bess."

QuickTime movie, 2.2 MB. You will need the
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Video Clip
Todd Duncan

See a QuickTime movie of Todd Duncan recounting the conversation in which George Gershwin asked him to play the role of Porgy.

QuickTime movie, 2.2 MB. You will need the
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Or, see
this clip via streaming video, using RealPlayer. You must have RealPlayer 5.0 in order to view this clip.

Porgy and Bess Intro | Behind the Scenes | Meet the Artists | A Look at the Work | Resources

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Photo credits:
Top Banner: Courtesy of the Vandamm Collection, Museum of the City of New York.
Photo: Courtesy of the James Standifer Collection.