July 07, 2023

#08-324: Porgy and Bess

Stage set of Catfish Row (Wikimedia)

Note: Some of America's greatest tunes have come from the pen of George Gershwin; in popular music, this is his masterpiece.

Get Ready: Do you like jazz music? Classical? How about when they are combined?

American composer George Gershwin's 1935 opera Porgy and Bess was written to be performed exclusively by African American singers. Perhaps best known for its haunting lullaby, "Summertime," it tells the story of Porgy, a disabled beggar, and the "fallen woman" Bess, who has been claimed by a ruffian named Crown. They all live together in a tenement named Catfish Row.

As the story opens, the men are playing a game of craps organized by Porgy from his cart, which is pulled by a goat. Crown storms in with Bess and buys whisky and "happy dust" (drugs) from the local dealer, Sportin' Life. The women shun Bess, but Porgy softly defends her as the game begins.

Eventually, two men, Robbins and Crown, remain in the game. When Robbins wins, Crown tries to take his winnings. A fight ensues; Crown fatally stabs Robbins and runs away. Bess seeks shelter, but no one will take her in--except the doting Porgy.

Funds are gathered to bury Robbins, but only $15 of the $25 needed is raised. The undertaker will do it with a promise from Robbins's wife Serena to pay the rest later. Bess tries to contribute, but the widow at first rejects her gift.

A month later, Porgy is happily living with Bess. Sportin' Life visits "the Row" selling drugs and trying repeatedly to get Bess to go with him to New York. Part of his plan is to try to keep her "hooked" on the drugs she has given up since becoming a respectable woman.

After a picnic, Crown appears and attacks Bess.

Porgy later says he knows she has been with Crown, and she can go to him, if that will make her happy. Instead, she tells Porgy she loves him and begs him to protect her; that night Crown sneaks into the Row to take Bess away, and is killed in a fight with the disabled Porgy.

Porgy is arrested as a person of interest in Crown's murder; while he is in jail, Sportin' Life convinces Bess that Porgy will be locked up for a long time and her best move is to go with him to New York. Porgy is soon released, with money he won gambling in jail and presents for everyone. But when he gets back home, Bess has gone with Sportin' Life, and Porgy sets off in his goat cart to find her.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. craps
  2. doting
  3. ensues
  4. fallen
  5. hooked on
  6. lullaby
  7. ruffian
  8. shun
  9. tenement
  10. undertaker
  1. adoring; overly fond
  2. reject; ignore
  3. of low morals
  4. addicted to
  5. a gambling game played with dice
  6. a violent troublemaker
  7. happens as a result
  8. a run-down, overcrowded apartment building
  9. a person who prepares dead bodies for burial
  10. a song sung to put a baby to sleep

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for July 7, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. e; 2. a; 3. g; 4. c; 5. d; 6. j; 7. f; 8. b; 9. h; 10. i