The inclusion of Porgy & Bess in Spoleto Festival USA’s 2016 line up is “Charleston’s worst kept secret,” says Spoleto Director of Marketing and Public Relations Jennifer Scott. It’s been unofficially official for nearly a year. But yesterday Spoleto made the announcement legit. Written in Charleston by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin, the opera will be performed at the new Gaillard Center next season. Esteemed Gullah artist Jonathan Green will handle the visual design, while the concert choir from Charlotte, N.C. historically black college Johnson C. Smith University will play a prominent role in the production.
Scott says selecting the Smith choir was a serendipitous choice. As it turns out, choir director Shawn-Allyce White toured Europe twice playing Bess in a traveling production of the opera. On top of that, White’s mother, also a singer, trained under Todd Duncan, the man who originated the role of Porgy on Broadway in 1935. Duncan is also credited with desegregating opera. When a D.C. theater wouldn’t let African-American audiences in, Duncan refused to perform.
Incidentally, the first time Porgy & Bess was performed at the Gaillard — way back in 1970 — marked the first time the venue hosted an integrated audience. “It was a landmark production for the tricentennial celebrations of Charleston,” says Scott.
That history is part of the reason Spoleto Festival director Nigel Redden selected the opera for the 2016 season. “The Charleston connection is a happy accident,” says Scott. “It opens up a whole other level of connection to the city.”
Dates have yet to be announced for Porgy & Bess performances, but Scott believes Spoleto will offer at least six shows. And while the main cast roles are also still under wraps, she confirms that auditions have been held and casting calls include both local and national performers.
The complete Spoleto Festival USA program will be announced on January 3. For more information, visit spoletousa.org.
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