The director general of the Met (New York Metropolitan Opera), Peter Gelb, whose mandate has just been extended until 2027, can rejoice that two of his productions scheduled for the start of the season – and relatively on the fringes of the great repertoire – have had wide public success. Before Akhnaten, by Philip Glass, Porgy and Bess, de Gershwin, who had not been given to the Met for nearly thirty years and made the opening gala, aroused real enthusiasm. James Robinson production resumes from January 8 to 1st February, the date on which it will be broadcast in HD worldwide thanks to the Gaumont Pathé cinemas.
Written in 1935 after a play, Porgy, herself adapted from a short eponymous novel, Porgy and Bess illustrates the life of African Americans in the fictional Catfish Row neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina in the early 1930s. Gershwin and his colibrettist brother, Ira, demanded that the roles be exclusively performed by black singers. The opera, first performed in concert at Carnegie Hall in New York, will premiere at the Colonial Theater in Boston on September 30, 1935, and then at the Alvin Theater in New York on October 10. It was not until half a century ago, on February 6, 1985, that a first of Porgy and Bess at the Met directed by Nathaniel Merrill under the direction of James Levine, with star singers Simon Estes and Grace Bumbry, did not move Broadway comedy into the opera category.
It is this path full of pitfalls, witness to the history of black singers at the opera, which serves as a common thread for the exhibition "Black Voices at the Met" directed by Peter Clark, its director of archives. If it was indeed the dancers who first set foot on the stage of the New York opera house (The Dance in Place Congo, by Henry F. Gilbert, in 1918), followed by a choir of black singers for the production of Skyscrapers, modernist ballet of John Alden Carpenter, in 1926, the idea of mounting Porgy and Bess at the Met quickly trotted in the head of its successive directors. Otto Hermann Kahn, in office from 1908 to 1931, who supported the Harlem Renaissance movement, would have liked to offer Gershwin in 1935 the world creation of Porgy and Bess. But the economy is in depression, Gershwin has prohibited the "blackface" in the United States (he will allow it, for lack of black singers, in Europe) and the artists hired at the time are not it for a production but for all season.