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NY City Opera Opens Season

March 13, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ When George Gershwin’s ``Porgy and Bess″ premiered in 1935, it was in a Broadway theater. Now, it is accepted, and loved, as an opera.

The New York City Opera has opened its spring season with 14 shows of ``Porgy,″ using two casts and interspersing a few performances of ``Tosca.″

On Saturday night, the dynamic performers at the New York State Theater included Marquita Lister, who first starred in this splendid production in London. Her textured voice radiated Bess’ love for Porgy, as opposed to lust for Crown or for Sportin’ Life’s powdered dope. Her entrance in a sexy red dress was a show stopper.

Alvy Powell used his rich bass-baritone to convey the crippled Porgy’s moral strength and love for Bess. ``Bess, You Is My Woman Now″ is the high point of the opera, and this rendition was no exception.

Crown, the sexy bully, is often sung by a large man, but medium-sized Timothy Robert Blevins used his muscled torso and arms, his swagger and his take-charge baritone voice to fine advantage.

No matter how familiar the score may be, its beauty never ceases to surprise. Chorus numbers are exquisite, conveying a strong sense of community on Catfish Row, whether in mending fishing nets or confronting white authority.

As the opera began, greetings sounded strained; then voices warmed up. Anita Johnson as Clara floated a lovely ``Summertime.″ Angela Simpson as the earth-mother-like Serena had star quality. Her powerful ``My Man’s Gone Now″ received lavish and well-deserved applause.

Kenneth Floyd as Jake, who sang ``A Woman Is a Sometime Thing,″ didn’t always have the necessary volume. Dwayne Clark had Sportin’ Life’s voluptuous moves mastered but not quite the voice to match. The pushcart salesmen, Strawberry Woman and Crab Man, are always a brief high point in the opera, and Adina Aaron and Duane Martin Foster didn’t disappoint.

The cast was the same as on opening night Thursday. Lister, Powell, Blevins and Simpson were making debuts with the New York City Opera, as were the conductor, director and set designer.

John DeMain conducted with affection for the music. Tazewell Thompson directed and Douglas W. Schmidt designed the effective set. Three three-story buildings made up Catfish Row. The center one rotated to become the setting for a wake and gathering place during a hurricane. Buildings glided away and were replaced by trees for the picnic.

The last performance is March 25.

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