Long way to get there: new "Porgy" set in Soweto

Wed Oct 14, 2009 7:54am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - 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 over a scratchy phone connection 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 Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall in London Oct 26-27 and finishing up at the Edinburgh Festival Theater.

This is not the first time the Cape Town Opera has regaled Europe with its take on what is often ranked as THE great American opera, with its treasure trove of tunes including "Summertime," "Red Headed Woman" and "It Ain't Necessarily So" that became pop, jazz and even classical recital standards after the opera had its premiere in Boston in September, 1935.

"Full of grand emotion," "powerful and energetic" were phrases the German press used to describe a Cape Town Opera production of "Porgy and Bess" in Berlin last year.

But Europe, to use a colloquial expression that could -- but doesn't -- appear in the opera, ain't seen nuthin' yet.   Continued...