Opera "Porgy and Bess" gets 1960s Soweto setting

Wed Oct 14, 2009 2:02pm EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - The role of Porgy, the crippled beggar in "Porgy and Bess," has always been hard to pull off as he changes from grump to lover, but a Cape Town Opera version opening in Britain this month sets him a Herculean challenge:

To get back his Bess, Porgy has to make his way from Soweto to New York City...in a goat cart.

No problem, though, for Ntobeko Rwango, the opera company's 31-year-old bass baritone who alternately will sing the role of Porgy and his arch nemesis, the evil Crown, in George Gershwin's depiction of the squalid, murderous yet loving life in Catfish Row, South Carolina, transported to South Africa.

"It's a story of courage, it's a story that shows anything is possible," Rwango told Reuters by phone from South Africa.

He and the rest of the company were rehearsing for the opening at the Wales Millennium Center in Cardiff on October 21, followed by performances in London and Edinburgh.

This is not the first time the Cape Town Opera has regaled Europe with its take on the 1935 American opera classic with its treasure trove of tunes including "Summertime," "Red Headed Woman" and "It Ain't Necessarily So".

But the all-new production, having its premiere in Britain, moves the opera from the outskirts of Charleston to Soweto. It replaces the black fishing village's shacks with a building that has been "hijacked" by black squatters and changes the setting from the segregated American south to apartheid South Africa.

"We've said, 'Let's imagine for a moment that this is 1960s South Africa and let's imagine that the police have this kind of power over us'," Michael Williams, the Cape Town Opera's white general manager, said.   Continued...