program notes by composition > P > Porgy and Bess

Porgy and Bess

George Gershwin/arr. James Barnes

This “folk” opera with music by George Gershwin was first performed in 1935. The libretto by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin tells the story of Porgy, a disabled black beggar living in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina, and his attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of the stevedore Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin' Life, the drug dealer. The opera featured an entire cast of classically trained African-American singers—a daring artistic choice at the time. After an initially unpopular public reception, it eventually became one of the best-known and most frequently performed American operas. A film followed in 1959.

This overture features “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Summertime,” “Crab Man,” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.”

George Gershwin (1898-1937) was a gifted writer of popular songs, musical comedies, a folk opera and other art music. Born Jacob Gershovitz in Brooklyn, New York, he left high school to work on Tin Pan Alley as a song plugger. He found early success with “Swanee.” He teamed up with his older brother Ira as lyricist and wrote over a dozen successful musical comedies. He blended jazz and popular and classical music and was widely successful. His early death resulted from a brain tumor.

Last updated on March 17, 2015 by Palatine Concert Band