Simon Rattle’s recording of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which was released in 1989, is among the milestones in his discography. The interpretation was showered with prizes, including a Grammy Award. In this concert, Sir Simon performs the work with the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time. Willard White can be heard in the role of Porgy, which he also performed on Rattle’s recording; to the present day, he is considered the perfect embodiment of the role. At his side, Latonia Moore sings the role of Bess.
In Gershwin’s work, composed in 1934-35, the two singers portray the heroes in a profoundly sad love story based in a black neighbourhood in South Carolina. Porgy, a crippled beggar, loves the beautiful but unstable Bess – so much that he murders for her. She in turn alternates between him and other shady men. The work ends openly, the sole certainty being that the protagonists will find no happiness in this world. As in other great operas, a foreboding of the tragic end is already woven into the love scenes.
One can truly say that one of the strengths of Porgy and Bess is its multi-faceted expressive range. That’s because besides the love story there is a vivid milieu study, full of catchy characters and scenes. The music is similarly variegated: close sometimes to symphonic jazz, sometimes to Italian verismo opera – and yet it never feels fragmented, but rather always held together by an irresistible dramatic force.