George Gershwin

Porgy & Bess Nicole Cabell, Marquita Lister, Alvy Powell, Robert Mack; John Mauceri conducting the Nashville Symphony Orchestra (Decca)

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George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess has been reexamined repeatedly over the years in pursuit of a definitive edition. Changing venues, directors, singers and productions, with their attendant cuts and rewrites, have made this a daunting challenge. In the case of Decca’s new issue, a deft reconstitution of the original production, the results are not only a crucial documentation, but a thoughtful, theatrical realization of what is arguably the Great American Opera.

John Mauceri waded through a morass of orchestral parts to pin down a Porgy as the Gershwins (composer George and lyricist Ira) and the Heywards (novelist DuBose and playwright Dorothy) might have conceived it. The conductor’s educated guesswork earns its rightful place on the brimming Porgy shelf, but it is the quality of the performances he leads that makes this not just a work of scholarship but a vivid, vital re-creation.

The real find here is Nicole Cabell, a beautiful soprano who twists “Summertime” into the bold opening aria that Gershwin probably hoped for. And the rest—Alvy Powell’s robust Porgy, Marquita Lister’s spot-on Bess, Robert Mack’s delightfully seedy Sporting Life—round out a perfectly balanced cast. Mauceri’s vivid orchestral sound (done few favors by dull recorded sound) and antic pacing give the record an “I was there” sensation: You feel as if you are listening to an original cast recording, or even a live performance. — Daniel Felsenfeld

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