'Porgy and Bess': A Select Chronology

The history of Gershwin's opera, from its conception in 1926 to its reinvention in Austin in 2008

'Porgy and Bess': A Select Chronology

1925: DuBose Heyward writes the novel Porgy.

1926: George Gershwin reads Porgy and writes Heyward to ask about creating a musical version of it.

1927: Dorothy Heyward adapts the novel into the play of the same name as a surprise to her husband. In October, the play opens on Broadway and runs 367 performances.

1935: Renamed Porgy and Bess, the opera version premieres in New York, a collaboration among the Heywards, composer George Gershwin, and George's lyricist brother, Ira.

1942: Producer Cheryl Crawford revives the opera for Broadway with the operatic score cut back and spoken lines from the Heywards' play inserted between songs. Etta Moten joins the revamped production as Bess but protests use of the word "nigger" in the libretto, refusing to sing it. With the full support and participation of Ira Gershwin, the word is removed from the text.

1943: The Danish Royal Opera premieres the first of many overseas productions, a version in Danish with an all-white cast in Copenhagen on March 23, 1943. Despite the strong audience response, repeated and threatening warnings from the Nazis force it to close.

1952: A European tour is developed starring William Warfield and Leontyne Price, with Cab Calloway as Sportin' Life. A second tour the next year adds a young Maya Angelou as Ruby.

1955: The international touring version of Porgy and Bess becomes the first American theatre performance in the Soviet Union since the Bolshevik revolution.

1956: Arranged by Russell Garcia and Duke Ellington, the second "complete" recording of the opera features jazz singers and musicians, including Mel Tormé and Frances Faye as Porgy and Bess, Johnny Hartman, Betty Roche, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

1957: Russell Garcia continues his work on the piece, this time on a shortened "highlights" album featuring Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

1958: Miles Davis, in collaboration with arranger and conductor Gil Evans, records an instrumental jazz album of Porgy and Bess interpretations.

1959: Otto Preminger directs a truncated film version starring Sidney Poitier, who later regrets taking the role.

1976: Ray Charles and Cleo Laine record Porgy & Bess, featuring highlights from the opera, this time with a more R&B tilt but including a 78-piece orchestra.

1976: The Houston Grand Opera performs Porgy and Bess, the first major and influential classical opera company to do so.

1985: The Metropolitan Opera adds Porgy and Bess to its repertoire, a final surrender by the opera establishment over whether the piece is an opera.

1993: Acclaimed stage director Trevor Nunn's version of the "complete" Porgy and Bess is released on video, a distinct alternative to the heavily edited and adapted 1959 film version.

2008: One of the flagships of Austin's bustling and internationally recognized theatre scene, the Zachary Scott Theatre Center, not only takes on Porgy and Bess but edits, adapts, and orchestrates its own version.

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Porgy and Bess, Zachary Scott Theatre Center, George Gershwin

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