Tom Strini

Gershwin’s “Porgy” at the Pops

Jeff Tyzik leads the MSO through "Porgy and Bess" and some unusual bits of Gershwiniana.

By - Jan 5th, 2013 01:37 am

The “Porgy and Bess” creative team: George Gershwin, Dubose Heyward, Ira Gershwin. Photo courtesy of The Ohio State University Libraries.

The Milwaukee Symphony Pops celebrated George Gershwin in general and Porgy and Bess in particular Friday evening at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall.

Guest conductor Jeff Tyzik, soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme, baritone Kevin Deas and the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus gave the entire second half to Robert Russell Bennett’s 1956 suite of a dozen numbers from the 1935 opera. Tyzik supplemented that with the duet, “I Loves You, Porgy,” in the first half.

Chandler-Eteme and Deas are accomplished opera singers and sounded the part in the big, Italianate duets, the above and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” which Gershwin assigned to Porgy and Bess. When Deas switched roles to Sportin’ Life, he jumped, like Gershwin, to a rather more vernacular style involving wordplay couched in jumpy, syncopated rhythms. Deas made “It Ain’t Necessarily So” the highlight of the evening by phrasing many lines eccentrically and then turning to prompt the chorus, which responded in kind to his call. The playful back-and-forth also spoke to the charm of Sportin’ Life, an irresistible rascal.


Soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme


Baritone Kevin Deas

The MSO, for some reason, always amplifies Pops concerts. That hindered these singers, who could easily have carried the hall without microphones. They couldn’t quite figure out where to stand in relation to the mike in “I Loves You, Porgy.” And Chandler-Eteme was also at sea in “Summertime,” which came early in the suite. She took a swing in the direction of melismatic blues-opera diva, but was tentative with her dynamics and looked physically uncertain. But by the third song, “A Woman Is a Sometime Thing,” she and Deas had found the sweet spot. And we found out just how skilled, expressive and poised these singers are. They also had great rapport that was lovely to see and worked in a hint of acting, at a scale right for a concert setting.

(By the way and surely by coincidence, the MSO gave us a preview: The Skylight Music Theatre will give a full staging of Porgy and Bess May 17-June 9.)


Conductor Jeff Tyzik

Tyzik, a passionate scholar of The American Songbook, reached into the dustier regions of Gershwiniana to fill out the first half. He opened with the overture to Funny Face, a George and Ira musical from 1928. “S’ Wonderful” is the enduring hit from this rarely revived, lighter-than-helium comedy, originally a vehicle for the sibling dance team of Fred and Adele Astaire. “My One and Only” has had some traction over the years, too; Balanchine used it in his Who Cares? ballet to Gershwin songs. Both songs peeked out from this charming pastiche overture, which Tyzik led with an ear toward suave melodies over a bouncy dance beat.

Tyzik reached all the way back to 1914 and Rialto Ripples, Gershwin’s very first published piece. Tyzik arranged the piano rag for orchestra with a prominent solo piano part, which Wilanna Kalkhof played nicely. Another curiosity, the little Lullaby for String Quartet, followed. The full string sections played it, except for a bit in the middle to give us a taste of the original quartet texture.

That set the stage for a rousing Cuban Overture to finish the first half — and bring back memories of the Cuban audience going nuts for its Afro-Caribbean rhythms when the MSO played it in Havana in December of 1999.

This program will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 5-6. Visit the MSO website for tickets and further information or call the Marcus Center box office, 414 273-7206. And note that more Gershwin is on the way to the MSO: On Jan. 18-19, pianist Stephen Beus will join conductor Francesco Lecco-Chong and the MSO in Rhapsody in Blue.

What are you doing this weekend? Don’t know? Danielle McClune has some ideas.

0 thoughts on “MSO: Gershwin’s “Porgy” at the Pops”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The audience should have been on their feet immediately after the final aria. Maybe they didn’t know the protocol. Performers know in their heart what is good.

    I admit to having an incurable Gershwin habit. This concert came along at just the right time, as I have been pleasuring myself lately with Earl Wild’s score, “Fantasy on Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” [48pp, copyright 1975] Gershwin fans might also enjoy Earl Wild’s 886-page book, “A Walk on the Wild Side” which is replete with all manner of Gershwin-related gossip. There’s an hilarious little story on page 237 that I’m not going to repeat here. Both items are available from Michael Rolland Davis, who was Earl Wild’s manager and is on facebook. Tellim Val sencha.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Interesting – when I lived in Baltimore in the 90s, Janice Chandler was an up and coming local singer whose national career stalled because she refused to sing on the Sabbath, unless it was sacred music. She is/was a very devout Seventh Day Adventist. Apparently she has relaxed her approach to this – which is a good thing, because she’s a wonderful singer and she’s been given a wonderful instrument that people should hear.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Love seeing one of my favorite pianists, Wilanna Kalkhof, get a shout-out–she deserves more of ’em!!

  4. Anonymous says:

    there was an expansive galaxy of role play her actual singing, and that included some artistic withering of the dynamic in place of the more common device of tonal drift such as we’ve heard from Lioness Price.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Chris, Stefanie and Valerie for commenting. — Strini

  6. Anonymous says:

    And Wilanna name now spelled correctly. — Strini

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