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Porgy and Bess


Catfish Row, night. A piano plays a “low-down blues,” and Clara sings a lullaby (“Summertime”) to her baby. During a game of craps, Crown, who is drunk, becomes enraged over a minor incident and kills Robbins. Serena weeps over the body of her husband. Before making his escape, Crown tells his girlfriend, Bess, that he’ll be back for her. Sportin’ Life offers Bess refuge after she begs him for some “happy dust,” but she chooses to hide in Porgy’s room, not suspecting that the disabled beggar loves her.

Serena’s Room, the next night. Robbins is laid out for the wake, with a saucer on his chest to collect funds for his burial. The police arrive and accuse Peter, an old man, of murdering Robbins. Naming Crown as the killer, Peter is taken to jail as a material witness while Serena sings “My Man’s Gone Now.” Final arrangements for the funeral are made. The scene ends with the spiritual “Leavin’ for the Promised Land.”

Catfish Row, a month later. Jake and the other fishermen, repairing their nets before they go fishing, sing “It Takes a Long Pull to Get There.” Jake’s wife, Clara, pleads with him not to go. In the song “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’,” Porgy shines with happiness now that Bess has come to live with him. Maria, who runs the cookhouse, upbraids Sportin’ Life, forbidding him to peddle his “happy dust” to the community. A large buzzard flies overheard, frightening the crowd, and Porgy explains it as an evil omen in “The Buzzard Song.” In the now empty courtyard Sportin’ Life makes advances toward Bess. Porgy orders Sportin’ Life to stay away from her. Alone, Porgy and Bess sing the duet, “Bess, You is My Woman Now,” and Bess reluctantly leaves Porgy to go to a community picnic.

Kittiwah Island, that night. The picnic is in full swing. Sportin’ Life entertains the group with his cynical attitude toward religion (“It Ain’t Necessarily So”). As the picnickers climb aboard the boat for the trip home, Crown surprises and confronts Bess. She argues that she now belongs to Porgy but is overpowered and seduced by Crown.


Catfish Row, a week later. Peter has been released. Bess is sick and delirious in Porgy’s room. Porgy and Serena pray for her. Street sounds are heard, and Bess calls out for Porgy. Recovered, Bess sings “I Loves You, Porgy,” but their joy quickly turns into fear as the dreaded hurricane bell is rung.

Serena’s Room, the next day. As the hurricane rages, the community is concerned about a group of missing fishermen. Clara is particularly upset since her husband, Jake, is the captain of the boat. Crown bursts into the room. He and Porgy quarrel. The distraught Clara, after giving her baby to Bess, rushes out into the storm in search of her husband. Before leaving, Crown warns Bess that he will return for her.

The next evening, the chorus mourns Clara, Jake, and Crown—all thought to be lost in the storm. Sportin’ Life enters, laughing cynically and alluding to Bess having “two men.” Bess, holding Clara’s baby, sings “Summertime.” When the courtyard is empty, Crown enters furtively, crawling toward Porgy’s window. But Porgy surprises him and kills him with his powerful hands. As the scene ends, Porgy laughs triumphantly.

The next afternoon, the police come to Catfish Row to investigate the murder and order Porgy to come with them to identify the body. As soon as Porgy is taken away, Sportin’ Life persuades the confused and distraught Bess that Porgy will be locked up, never to return. Offering her some “happy dust,” Sportin’ Life sings “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York,” convincing Bess to go away with him.

A week later, Porgy returns home. He calls for Bess. Discovering she has gone to New York, Porgy orders his goat cart and sets out to find her. As he drives through the gate, the chorus joins him in “Oh Lawd, I’m On My Way.”

Jul. 30 - Aug. 20, 2011

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Photo Credit

© Elise Bakketun