Timeline of Important Events
Below is a modest sampling of certain events, performances, and recordings that have either directly contributed to the opera's inception and creation, or have contributed to the work's evolution into its present musical and dramatic forms, and contemporary artistic consciousness. This is by no means complete, and should be taken as simply an overview. I strongly encourage all inquiring minds to consult Howard Pollack's George Gershwin: his life and work and Walter Rimler's A Gershwin Companion: a critical inventory & discography, 1916-1984 for a more complete listing of various performances, recordings, and derivitive musical works.
September 30, 1935
- Noted author, poet, and playwright, DuBose Heyward, publishes the book Porgy, a story set in Charleston South Carolina and loosely based upon a "lame black beggar and vendor of peanut cakes, Samuel Smalls (known in Charleston as 'Goat Sammy')"(Pollack 2006, 569-570 ).
- George Gershwin reads Porgy and is inspired to adapt it into an opera (Ibid, 568).
- Dorothy Heyward, Dubose's wife, adapts Porgy for stage (Ibid, 572).
- New York's Theater Guild produces the stage adaptation (Ibid).
- A private performance--a full-scale run-through of the opera minus staging and scenery--occurred at Carnegie Hall (Rimler 1991, 308). This is the only time until 1976 that the opera as originally conceived of by Gershwin would be performed.
- Under the auspices of the Theater Guild--the same guild who years earlier had produced the stage version of Porgy--the first full public performance of the opera occurs at Boston's Colonial Theatre. This premiere included several musical cuts including "Oh, Hev'nly Father," portions of "Jasbo Brown Blues," and additional pantomime from the third act (Pollack, 600-601).
- With further cuts to the music-- including the remainder of "Jasbo Brown Blues," "I Hates Yo' Struttin Style," "I Wants to Stay Here," "Oh, Bess, Oh Where's My Bess?," and two additional underscoring fugues--Porgy and Bess opens in New York at the Alvin Theatre (Pollack, 602-603). See an original review of that production here.
- The opera closes after 124 performances (Pollack, 606; Rimler, 309).
- George Gershwin dies (Pollack, 4).
- Under the auspices of noted theater impresario Merle Armitage, the first revival of Porgy and Bess occurs with performances in Pasadena, Los Angeles, and San Francisco California (Pollack, 609).
- With significant cuts to the original production, including converting the recitative to spoken dialogue, Cheryl Crawford, a former stage manager for the original production, produced a revised version of Porgy and Bess in New Jersey, New York, and Boston (Pollack, 610).
- A shorter version of Crawford's abridged version of the opera was presented by the USO Camp Shows (Pollack, 612).
- The Danish Royal Opera launches the European premiere of Crawford's version of Porgy and Bess in Nazi occupied Copenhagen (Pollack, 612). It should be noted that this production was an all-white production with cast members in dark makeup.
- Robert Breen, "a director, actor and producer," and Blevins Davis, a "wealthy benefactor" produce an "entirely new three-act version of the work, one that incorporated some cuts from erlier productions but added some previously unstaged material from the original score." This work opened domestically and toured extensively throughout the U.S., Europe, and the Soviet Union (Pollack, 615-620). This production included Cab Calloway in the role of Sportin' Life.
- A film version of Porgy and Bess, advertised as an opera, and "more closely [resembling] a movie musical, with songs and choruses...alternating with dialogue...underscored by music derived from the score" was released by Columbia pictures (Pollack, 648-649).
- The New York City Opera launches a new production of the Breen-Davis opera (Pollack, 624).
- "The Houston Grand Opera launche[s] the most complete [Porgy and Bess] to date." This version, conducted by John DeMain, presents all of the original music and songs as envisioned by Gershwin (Pollack, 628).
- The Glyndebourne Festival Opera produces Porgy and Bess with conductor Simon Rattle and director Trevor Nunn, who sought to bring out the opera's "darker side" (Pollack, 634).
- Trevor Nunn, with the help of Yves Baigneres, adapts the 1986 Glyndebourne Festival Opera to screen using the soundtrack from the 1988 EMI recording (DVD Insert).
- A new musical adaptation of Porgy and Bess is presented as a musical in the broadway tradition. This version replaces recitative with spoken dialogue and makes specific alterations to the book, music, and scene structure. This version is sanctioned by the both the Gershwin and Heyward estates (Healy, New York Times).
- The Metropolitan Opera (of New York), in conjunction with the Dutch National Opera, presents the most current production of the opera, which had been premiered in October of 2018 in London.
Februrary 5, 1942
- Gershwin begins and completes the score and orchestrations for the opera Porgy and Bess (manuscript score sketch).
- Gershwin records a rehearsal of principals including the following music: "Jasbo Brown Piano Music," "Summertime," "A Woman is a Sometime Thing," the orchestral finale from Act 1, Scene 1, "My Man's Gone Now," and "Bess, You is My Woman Now," publised by Mark56 Records 667 (Rimler, 310; Gershwin, “George Gershwin Conducts Excerpts from Porgy and Bess”).
- Under the supervision of Geroge Gershwin, RCA Victor records a four-album set of excerpts from the opera with white opera singers Helen Jepson and Lawrence Tibbett, and under the direction of Alexander Smallens, music director to the original production (Pollack, 647;
- Under the direction of the Alexander Smallens the Philadelphia Orchestra premieres a five-movement orchestral suite from Porgy and Bess, entitled Catfish Row, composed by Gershwin and featuring themes and songs from the opera (Pollack, 641). (Excerpt here.)
- The cast of Crawford's revival of the opera, which included members of the original 1935 production, recorded an abridged version of the opera at the WOR radio studios. This recording "remains as close to a complete original cast recording as exists" (Pollack, 610-611).
- Premiere of Robert Russell Bennett's a one-movement orchestral suite based upon the music of Porgy and Bess, entitled Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture, inspired in part by the success of Crawford's revival (Pollack, 642).
- Beryl Rubinstein publishes "Chopinesque arrangements of 'Sumemrtime,' 'I Got Plenty o' Nuttin',' 'Bess, You Is My Woman,' and "It Ain't Necessarily So' for piano" (Pollack, 643).
- "Columbia Records and producer Goddard Lieberson released the first near-complete recording of the opera..."(Pollack, 614).
- "Percy Grainger...prepared a Fantasy on Porgy and Bess...which he...premiered at New York's Town Hall" (Pollack, 643).
- Morton Gould records his orchestral Porgy and Bess Suite (Pollack, 643).
- The Bethlehem record label releases Porgy and Bess, a jazz version of the entire opera featuring "almost the entire roster" of Bethlehem artists. This version utilizes narration, and features Mel Torme as Porgy, Johnny Hartman as crown, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, with music arranged and conducted by Russel Garcia (Quinn, 11). This "was the second complete recording of the score and the first to substitute jazz performers for opera singers" (Hilgart, 27).
- Verve releases a version of Porgy and Bess, orchestrated and conducted by Russell Garcia, featuring Louis Armstrong (on trumpet and voice) and Ella Fitzgerald performing selected music from the opera (Granz).
- Robert Farnon records his Porgy and Bess Symphonic Suite (Pollack, 643).
- Under the direction of Lorin Maazel, the Cleveland Orchestra releases the "first recording of the complete opera on the Decca-London label" (Pollack, 627).
- RCA records releases the complete full-length recording of the opera as produced by the Houston Grand Opera (Gershwin, Houston Grand Opera, compact disc).
- The Glyndebourne Festival Opera releases their 1988 recording of their 1987 production of Porgy and Bess under the EMI label.
- An original cast recording of the new adaptation, The Geshwin's Porgy and Bess: The Broadway Musical, is released.