Tag Archives: Porgy and Bess

6 American Operas to Listen to on July 4

These operas capture the American spirit and explore its history. When planning your Fourth of July festivities, add opera to your menu with your burgers and fireworks to celebrate our nation’s independence.

Porgy & Bess

Marietta Simpson (left) as Maria and Indira Mahajan (right) as Bess in Porgy and Bess (2007); Photo: Robert Millard

Marietta Simpson (left) as Maria and Indira Mahajan (right) as Bess in Porgy and Bess (2007); Photo: Robert Millard

Last performed by LAO in 2007, George Gershwin’s iconic work is the epitome of American opera. Set in 1912 South Carolina, the plot follows the story of street beggar Porgy, who seeks to rescue Bess from the clutches of her brutal lover and drug dealer. Heavily influenced by jazz, blues and spirituals, the score is a perfect summertime listen. You may even already be familiar with the iconic piece thanks to recordings by Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Stewart and countless other recording artists of all genres, which made its most famous song, “Summertime,” a pop culture phenomenon.

Little Women


Composer-librettist Mark Adamo turned Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale of four sisters growing up in post-Civil War New England into a contemporary American operatic masterpiece.  Premiered in 1998 in Houston with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (LAO’s dazzling 2009 Rosina in The Barber of Seville) in the leading role of Meg, it has rapidly become one of the most frequently performed operas of our time.

A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire (2014); Photo: Robert Millard

A Streetcar Named Desire (2014); Photo: Robert Millard

Based on the very operatic Tennessee Williams play, André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire begins with Blanche DuBois’ arrival in 1940s New Orleans. Clinging to a masquerade of Southern grace, she moves into her sister’s cramped apartment, creating all the wrong kinds of sparks with her crude brother-in-law. When dark truths about Blanche’s past begin to emerge, her world comes apart at the seams in a spiral of violence and madness. LAO’s 2014 performances starred Renée Fleming, who created the role of Blanche at the opera’s 1995 San Francisco premiere.

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#tbt: Porgy and Bess

Mic Bell as Porgy in the 1987 production of Porgy and Bess

George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess was the closing production of LA Opera’s inaugural season.  It was seen as a highly influential production, created for Houston Grand Opera in 1976, that made the case for the work as a true opera, rather than a Broadway musical, and restored Gershwin’s complete original score. Director Jack O’Brien described the experience of working on the opera as “opening a treasure never seen,” because of the artistic community that formed to create the show. It was a triumphant season finale, conducted by John DeMain, with a magnificent cast that included Donnie Ray Albert and Carmen Balthrop, alternating in the title roles with Mic Bell and Henrietta Davis.

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