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February 4, 2010

In the Sun: the enduring 'Porgy' and the remarkable Till Fellner

Should you not have scoured Thursday's Sun fully, you might have missed more precious prose by moi, and I'd really hate for that to happen.

One article is about the enduring power of Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," which gets attention from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Friday and Saturday in the form of a concert suite, and from Washington National Opera next month in a revival of Francesa Zambello's fabulous production. There are so many intriguing and rewarding things about this work, which I think easily justifies the ranking many of us give it -- the greatest American opera, period.

Coincidentally, both the BSO and WNO will have the benefit of soprano Indira Mahajan as Bess. In Baltimore, she'll be joined onstage by Derrick Parker as Porgy; in DC, she'll be singing with Lester Lynch as Porgy (there will be two casts for this production, the other starring Morenike Fadayomi and Eric Owens).

My other story is an interview with Till Fellner, the exceptional pianist who is slated to make his Baltimore debut on Saturday. (If the weather interferes, I may never look at snow the same way again.) I can't agree with his dismissal of Rachmaninoff's music, by the way, but I'll save my rebuttal for another time.

Speaking of Saturday, that's also the night when the Peabody Symphony Orchestra is set to offer one of its most appealing programs of the season --

Mahler's Symphony No. 4 (conducted by Teri Murai, with soprano Jennifer Edwards); the Maryland premiere of Joseph Schwantner's "Chasing Light" (conducted by Peabody grad student Ryan Haskins); and the winning work in the conservatory's Macht Orchestral Composition Competition, "...durch den Tod zu Gott gekommen...", by Joshua William Mills (conducted by grad student Karin Hendrickson).

I really hate the fact that two such enticing events should end up landing on the same night. This sort of thing happens all the time, of course. Maybe the Baltimore Cultural Alliance can start a project aimed at figuring out how to help performing arts in this town from competing against each other so often.

Meanwhile, good luck deciding what to hear this weekend -- assuming you can dig out from the massive white death that already has everyone in a panic.


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:18 AM | | Comments (3)


Wasn't this the weekend that Jessye Norman was supposed to appear? If so, then maybe she had some "inside knowledge" of the weather situation. ;^)

Hmmmm. TIM


You raise an interesting idea regarding conflicts--definitely worth investigating. On the plus side, though, isn't it a great thing for Baltimore to have too many high quality cultural options in one night? I sure hope the snow doesn't interfere.

Buck Jabaily
Executive Director
Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance

Thanks for reminding me of the bigger view, which just might stop my whining for a day or two. TIM

As I recall, Francesa Zambello's production dispenses with Porgy's goat: "Bring my crutch," Porgy calls, rather than "Bring my goat." Porgy gets around pretty well on his one crutch, and when he needs to, he can stand up. OK, he's slightly disabled, but hardly so crippled that he'd have no luck with the ladies until Bess comes around, and he doesn't really have to make a living as a beggar. I suppose stage goats are at least as temperamental as actors, and it's easier to stage the work goatlessly, but it's a shame to lose part of Heyward's central inspiration for the play and opera.

What I don't recall from the last production is that the show is not just an opera, it's a commodity; its name is not Porgy and Bess but Porgy and Bess℠ -- service mark applied for. While other operas are credited to their composers (Ambroise Thomas, Hamlet), this one is the product of that trademarked entity The Gershwins®. Whose heirs could ask for anything more?

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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