Friday, April 12, 2019

Eric Conway: Morgan Choir in Porgy and Bess with Marin Alsop and the BSO April 11-14

Hana S. Sharif, Director

Laquita Mitchell, Bess

Robert Cantrell, Porgy

Lester Lynch, Crown

Larry Hylton, Sportin' Life
(Courtesy Arcadia Productions)

Reyna Carguill, Serena

Jasmine Habersham, Clara

Dr. Eric Conway writes:

Hello Morgan Fine Arts Community,

Last night, just two weeks after premiering a new commission with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Morgan State University Choir was the official chorus for the Baltimore Symphony’s current semi-staged production of Porgy and Bess.   At first, I had to decide if we could sing the piece on the level required by the BSO, only two weeks after singing with Philadelphia, but I could not say NO, wanting to give as many of our students an opportunity to perform this extraordinary piece for the first time.

Porgy and Bess is inarguably, the greatest American opera, where Gershwin somehow managed to totally capture the entire American spirit in one way or another.  The songs such as “Summertime" and "I Got Plenty of Nothing" are as iconic as any song in the standard operatic literature.  Without a doubt, the role of the chorus in Porgy and Bess is more important than any other opera in the standard repertoire.

Although the Morgan choir has performed this opera many times over years, often with the now defunct Baltimore Opera Company, we have not performed the piece since 2016.  For many current choir members, this was their first exposure to the full chorus part of the opera which is not an easy task to sing.  

I must say, that I was pleased that the Morgan Choir sang the piece so convincingly last night during our first performance with the BSO at the Music Center at Strathmore (only one performance at that venue). 

The person who originally was contracted to sing the role of Porgy had to cancel at the last minute, so the BSO hired current Morgan State University lecturer Robert Cantrell to sing the title role of Porgy. Current Morgan State Choir member Larry Hylton, sang the role of Sportin’ Life.  The BSO had so much faith in our music program at Morgan, that they hired several of our undergraduate choir students to sing some of the smaller roles on stage during this production, such as the roles of Jake - Joshua Jones, Robbins - Darrin Scott, Maria - Alexandria Crichlow-Bradshaw, which was great experience for our students.

All in all, this has been a wonderful experience for the choir, but exhausting.  I always tell those who hire the choir for these productions that they are students first, and artists second!  I thank my Morgan faculty for excusing some of the students from their classes for needed staging and musical rehearsals.

If you are free this weekend, tickets are still available with an 8PM performance Friday, April 12, and Saturday, April 13, and a 3PM matinee performance on Sunday, April 14, 2019.  See link below to the BSO website.  Even if you have heard the piece before, one can always hear his great music again.  All of the performers - professionals and students are first-rate.  I hope that you can attend. See program and pics attached.


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