by Jamet Pittman, soprano, and member of the Porgy & Bess chorus.
On August 4th, 60 African-American singers from all over the country walked through the Metropolitan Opera stage door and convened in a C-level rehearsal room. We were all giddy with excitement to begin working on the Met's production of Porgy and Bess-- the first it had done in years. Some of us knew each other from the "opera scene"; others came from a musical theater background; still others came from professional choral groups. How ever we got here, we knew that we were embarking on a wonderful journey together.
In our first rehearsal, the sound of the chorus was astounding-- both in its beauty and its sheer power. I think it's safe to say that we all had visceral reactions to the sound we created: rich, full and—dare I say it— chocolaty! The tenors and basses were dazzled by the ethereal sounds of the altos and sopranos, while the women were blown away by the deep, strong male choruses. Baritone Quentin Oliver Lee said, "This sound showcases the Met's world-class standard. You don't get this sound just anywhere— you just get swept away with it!"
Here, we know that we are in great hands. Maestro David Moody, with wit and humor, took us through the more tedious (but all-important) aspects of the music, such as reinforcing note lengths, cutoffs and diction issues. Bass Kevin Gardner is new to Porgy and Bess. He says that going over the parts together "helps me to further understand the show. I'm having a great time." It didn't take long to realize that Maestro Palumbo, though a rather petite man, carries a big stick, musically speaking. He came in and gave us the finer points of context and mood so that we had not only power, but shape and intention. Maestro Palumbo was able to harness the exuberance of our group while revealing the certain sound he has in mind for this production. With his singular personality and infallible ear, he has a gift for bringing us into this space, to this performance, regardless of how many Porgys we've sung in the past. Gardner said, " It's nice to see Maestro Palumbo's excitement with our music-making. I understand why he is so intense about each note. I'm singing, but also listening." Quentin Lee was also impressed with Palumbo's exacting ear. "He hears parts so clearly. I've mostly done principal work, not ensemble, so it's interesting to learn how my notes factor with others."
Mezzo-soprano Linda Childs is a veteran opera soloist, production assistant and professional chorister. Having worn so many hats, she is always looking forward. "I wonder how the choral rehearsals will translate to the stage. Timing has to be precise. In the score, every entrance, every cut-off makes sense. I think we'll be facile enough to do what Maestro Palumbo wants." If we have trouble, or just need a reminder, he has the ability to correct us with obvious love for both the music and the musician.
As a soprano who has sung many times at the Koch theater, and also at Geffen Hall, but never at the Met-- I am thrilled to finally be here. It has been a dream of mine through undergraduate studies, post-graduate studies, and as a freelance singer in New York. Though some dreams may be deferred, some do actually come true when you least expect it--and in the most glorious fashion. I am thankful for the friendly, creative environment that has been prepared for us, and for the chorus of Porgy and Bess, the newest members of the Metropolitan Opera family.
I was speaking with Gail Blach-Gill, a soprano-turned director/conductor of many Porgy and Bess performances around the world. We discussed how Porgy has been handled over time, and she feels that its time may finally have come. Not only do we have the wonderful score, but conductors who have taken the time to understand and truly study the music and its nuances. Pair that with singers that are bringing new levels of musicianship and artistry to it, and you banish the heavy-handed, over-sung, "it's-fine-because-they're-Black" mentality that has infected many versions. Truthfully, there are still some African-Americans that may be embarrassed by Gershwin and Heyward's portrayal of Gullah life on Catfish Row, but they cannot say that earnest, intelligent and respectful attention has not been paid by the people involved in this production. And when all these elements come together on the Met stage, it promises to carry the audience away on waves of joy and pain as deep and as high as any created by, perhaps, a hurricane.
Porgy & Bess opens the 2019-2020 season on Monday, September 23rd. The dress rehearsal was an unparalleled success, and tickets are going fast. Very, very fast, in fact. Get yours before it’s too late!