Soprano Alyson Cambridge, baritone Lester Lynch and stage director David Herskovits listen as festival and city officials announce Spoleto Festival USA’s production of “Porgy and Bess” will be live-streamed and rebroadcast. ADAM PARKER/STAFF
Tickets for every performance of Spoleto Festival USA’s production of “Porgy and Bess” sold out within about two weeks, leaving many to hope for a miracle. Would the festival schedule additional performances? Were there blocks of reserved seats that might become available?
And there was something else, a gnawing issue that many arts organizations must cope with (or choose to avoid): What about all the people who want to see the show but can’t afford the ticket price in the first place?
Spoleto Festival, in cooperation with the Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs and Piccolo Spoleto Festival, came up with a solution. It will live-stream the performance of “Porgy and Bess” on a Jumbotron screen in Marion Square at 7:30 p.m. May 30, then rebroadcast the opera at 7:30 p.m. the next night in the practice field of West Ashley High School.
The Marion Square simulcast and West Ashley rebroadcast are made possible in part by the sponsorship of Wells Fargo and are open to the public and free. Festival officials are optimistic about the weather but will devise a contingency plan should the forecast include rain.
Mayor John Tecklenburg emphasized the importance of “Porgy and Bess” to Charleston, noting that George Gershwin spent the summer of 1934 in the area soaking in Lowcountry culture. Tecklenburg remembered attending the 1970 production of the folk opera at the old Gaillard Municipal Auditorium. It was the first time “Porgy” had been performed in the city that inspired its story and characters.
The show was finally presented here, 35 years after its New York premiere, because the Gershwins had prohibited the presentation of the opera in segregated theaters.
“Last year, when I ran for mayor, I said that one of our goals should be to improve our citizens’ quality of life by making the arts more accessible to more residents in more areas of our city,” Tecklenburg said in a statement. “Today, thanks to the Spoleto Festival USA and its sponsors, that vision is now starting to become a reality.”
The folk opera by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward currently is in rehearsals at the Gaillard Center. It stars soprano Alyson Cambridge and baritone Lester Lynch. The new production is directed by David Herskovits.
“‘Porgy and Bess’ has become part of this city’s history in ways we want to embrace and celebrate,” Herskovits said. “This is a ‘Porgy and Bess’ for you, for the people of Charleston, for all the people of Charleston.”
Spoleto Festival General Director Nigel Redden said the opera “evocatively represents the people of the Lowcountry” and it only made sense to make it accessible to local residents.
Though she has been in several other productions of “Porgy,” Cambridge is singing the role of Bess for the first time, she said. “No pressure, right?” she joked, adding that members of the cast were familiar with one another and happy to have this chance to perform in the opera. “It’s been a through-line in my operatic career,” she said.
Lynch said it is impossible to ignore the rich history of Charleston, in which the opera is steeped.
“To be in the place it was created, it’s an amazing feeling, and an honor really,” he said.