Cape Town Opera performs ‘Porgy and Bess’ in London -A different perspective

A peek at the Cape Town Opera. Why isn’t there more online?

If you wish to know the background of George Gershwin’s American opera, please visit this website under ‘Porgy and Bess’ at

A peek at the Cape Town Opera. Why isn’t there more online?

‘Porgy and Bess’

I Loves you Porgy:

Racism is so deeply imbedded in the psyche that African artists are not aware when they turn it against themselves. To explain, this ‘Porgy and Bess’ was set in Soweto instead of Charleston, South Carolina, on the assumption that Soweto provided a similar context for understanding. But Black oppression is individual, and African-American oppression in the South was very idiosyncratic.

Many Black people in the South held deep religious conviction about their ultimate deliverance by the hand of God, and they patiently asked Him to consider their plight. They were waiting for God- and the story of Jonah and his tribulations was a symbol of their affliction. Charleston was hot ; the cicadas were always busy in the trees,  and there was often mourning in the singing. The waters of the bay lapped the lazy shore, and the fishermen plied their nets, while some of the women were market gardeners. There were the city folk, like Porgy, and there were the Gulah folk. Violence would sometimes erupt, and it was most likely to be Black-on-Black, as frustration became turned inward against one’s own. The violence was often petty, about women or debt or dope.

Many of the individuals were resigned, patient and and socially bonded together, especially through the Church. Rebellion could take the form of remembered African rites held in the middle of the night.

So I wanted to hear the hymns sung quietly, running through the score, the spirituals sung just below the breath. This is complex music. Many of the melodies taken from real hymns and spirituals amid the blues and syncopation and the fugal blasts .  It is a score full of light and dark, softness and crescendo. It is complicated to listen to, so one must be helped by being directed in performance to what we are meant to hear, because it is not possible to hear all of it at once. Some of the experience must be about eternal time and waiting, and those waves lapping lapping. Gerhwin had Charleston in his head as he composed. He was living there.

When I sat in the theatre in London , I hoped that I would close my eyes and return to the South of my childhood and to Charleston. That is why I am telling you that Soweto isn’t Charleston. But I heard wonderful voices, and the Cape Town Opera had no weak link- even the cameo parts such as the strawberry hawker, Siphamandla Yakupa, and the devil- crab man, Vuyisile Hlaka, were memorable.

‘Porgy’ was sung by Otto Maidi. He has a powerful, rich voice that is beautiful to listen to. He sensitively captured Porgy’s psychological strength and his physical weakness. ‘Bess’ is not a tart.  She is a Black woman caught between her moral upbringing and a fantasy of escape to the high life. Tsakane Valentine Maswanganyi, who played Bess, has an exquisite,  soprano voice;  her high notes were beautiful and dense:


‘Summertime’ sung by Philisa Sibeko was evocative and bell-like. I could continue like this through the whole cast.


with Maria Callas

How can we in Europe remember these amazing names so that we can follow these great artists? I personally yearn to hear them sing again.

Songs from ‘Porgy and Bess’:

‘I go plenty o’ nothin’

It Ain’t Necessarily So:

Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald

San Francisco Opera:

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