Various Artists

Porgy and Bess [Prism]: 1940/1942 Studio Cast

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This budget-priced British disc combines two early recordings of the score of Porgy and Bess that have entered the public domain in Europe, allowing for such unlicensed releases, although Universal and BMG continue to claim copyright for them in the U.S. With an all-black cast headed by Todd Duncan (Porgy) and Anne Brown (Bess), and including Warren Coleman, Helen Dowdy, Georgette Harvey, Edward Matthews, and the Eva Jessye Choir, the original production of Porgy and Bess was a commercial disappointment when it opened on Broadway in 1935, running only 124 performances. No formal original Broadway cast album was recorded. But in 1942, a Broadway revival was mounted that again featured Brown, Duncan, Coleman, Dowdy, Harvey, Matthews, and the Eva Jessye Choir, with Avon Long replacing John W. Bubbles as Sportin' Life. This production was more successful than the original, running 286 performances and helping to establish the show as a classic. Decca Records had cut some recordings using these performers in 1940 and added more tracks in 1942 for what was technically a studio cast album, even though it featured most of the key members of the original Broadway cast. That album has since been reissued many times on Decca and its successor, MCA Records, and it takes up the first 14 tracks here, no doubt simply transferred from one of those legitimate discs, since there is a lot of surface noise to be heard. Nevertheless, Duncan, Brown, and the rest come through clearly. Back in 1935, meanwhile, composer George Gershwin hired opera singers Lawrence Tibbett and Helen Jepson, and took them into a studio to record eight songs from his score for an RCA Victor album, and those songs make up the "bonus tracks" that fill up this CD. These historical recordings give a sense of what Gershwin's intentions were for the material at the time of its premiere, and since he died only two years later, they are the only ones made under his supervision. No doubt RCA Victor's legitimate versions of this material would be sonically superior, but this package as a whole will be valuable to opera and show music fans, especially at its low price.

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