Porgy and Bess performance Sunday, March 7

by Mary Tutwiler

Even if you think you don't know anything about opera, there is one song everyone knows well enough to sing along, and I don't mean the Bugs Bunny version of the toreador song from Carmen. It's the great American standard, "Summertime," written by George and Ira Gershwin, and recorded by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to The Doors.

George Gershwin composed the song as a spiritual for his 1935 opera, Porgy and Bess, and it serves as the leitmotiv that flows through the entire performance. "Summertime" is reason enough to go to Sunday's performance of Porgy and Bess at the Heymann Performing Arts Center, but there's so much more to wow you if you do.

For starters, yep, it's an opera, but written in English, which means Anglophones can enjoy the full force of the story without having to read the superscript. Two, it's set in a familiar place, Charleston, South Carolina, not in Paris or Venice. Three, it's a milestone in American music, controversial in its time because it dealt with African-American life, and its plot was considered both inappropriate for an operatic work on one hand and racist on the other. Four, it's a fabulous musical work, filled with jazz and blues and gorgeous singing by one of the foremost American composers. Gershwin considered it his finest work.

PASA, which is presenting Porgy and Bess, is offering a number of workshops and lectures to enlighten theatre-goers before the curtain goes up this weekend. Here's the schedule:

Wednesday, March 3
Porgy and Bess: A love story against all odds, Lafayette Parish Library-south regional branch,
6101 Johnston Street, 6:30 p.m.
George Gershwin's Great American Opera Porgy and Bess was controversial from the start (in 1958 the movie set was destroyed by arson), but songs like "Summertime" and "It Ain't Necessarily So" ensure its immortality.  Join U.L.'s Dr Susan Nicassio as she explores the classic tale of love, crime, loss, and ultimately redemption, set in the Charleston tenement of Catfish Row.

Saturday, March 6
PASA presents: Porgy and Bess; from drama to destiny," teen discussion, Progressive Baptist Church Community Center, 125 Gallian Street, Lafayette, 1-3 p.m.
PASA will host a teen summit at Progressive Baptist Church Community Center. Area high school students are invited to participate as panelists in the teen discussion. The summit will focus on similar social challenges faced by the characters from Porgy and Bess and how it relates to teens today.This event will be moderated by local poet and actress Katrina Auzenne, and co-moderated by Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux. The event is free but space is limited. Interested participants can register by calling 237-2787 ext. 206.

Sunday, March 7
Porgy and Bess at the  Heymann Performing Arts Center, at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets for Porgy and Bess range from $12-$60 with discounts available for groups of 10 or more and students with a valid ID. Tickets can be purchased  through all TicketMaster outlets, by phone at 1(800)745-3000, or online at www.pasaonline.org.