Porgy and Bess Reaction
Before Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess, the interaction between blacks and whites was always controversial. With the opening of Porgy and Bess, inequalities where put onto the stage for everyone to see, forever changing the opera community, transforming the audience and reinventing what opera is and what opera should be. Gershwin’s opera was an invasion of the white-dominated theatrical world. Whether the white theater goers liked it or not, they were going to have to view the individual and race wide struggles of African-American men and women in a three hour opera.
Porgy and Bess symbolizes something that is very much real. It shows things in society that people did not want to acknowledge were there and it spawned an entire cultural awareness, leaving a vivid memory of injustice and inequality. The idea of an opera being dominated by blacks was unimaginable at the time. Without even mentioning the story, this was an amazing breakthrough for blacks, although it was not achieved without struggle. They had to fight for respect as performers and where under appreciated and under paid and were forced to perform in front of a segregated audience.
The opera acts out the undeserved hardships that African Americans were facing on a day to day basis. In the opera, they all work on a plantation, little more than slaves. For survival, they either share crop or marry a share cropper. Without any land of their own, they are forced to rely on the same white man who makes their lives miserable. Each and every share cropper lives in fear of their white boss who basically regards them as property because he has control the destiny each individual.
It is the white man that carries the black man to jail and at the same time, it is another white man who bails him out. In every scene, the black man is sitting down while talking to the white man and in the one scene where a Porgy is standing, expressing is discontent about viewing the corpse, he is dragged of against his will to the jail. When the white men raid the mourning of the deceased Robbins, they interrogate only the people who are sitting or kneeling. Although this is subtle, it symbolically shows how the white man viewed himself better than and black man.
When no one admits to the killing, the detective orders Peter to be locked up as a material witness until Crown in found. Not just a witness, a material witness. It is outrageous that the blacks were regarded little more than material. In the opera, neither race respects the other. Since the whites control almost everything, the black men and women have no one but themselves and “Dr. Jesus” to provide them with strength and a willingness to go on. When the blacks and whites are separated, they continually mock one another.
The blacks see the whites and evil and suppressing, while the white men view the blacks as capital and an investment to further their wealth and social status. In the scene where the three women are lying or seated on the bed, as soon as the white men leave, they break down laughing about how stupid the three white men had to be in order to believe Bess was actually terrible ill and close to death. At the same time the white men bicker about the women being “good for nothing. ”
The most obvious example of the disparity between whites and blacks in Porgy and Bess is the fact that black men and women sing throughout the opera, even to their white boss and the only call the white men “boss. ” On the contrary, the whites don’t sing at all and instead speak in a monotone, degrading manor. The reason that this opera is of genius is that in spite the fact that the major opera goes of the time were wealthy whites, Gershwin wrote an opera that could appeal to a wider array of audiences.
When George Gershwin was asked about his choice of sponsorship for the opera, he replied, “The reason I did not submit this work to the usual sponsors of opera in America was that I hoped to have developed something in America music that would appeal to the many rather than to the cultured few,” The critics of the time did not approve of Porgy and Bess, but Gershwin confirmed that “it is not the few knowing ones whose opinion makes any work of art great, it is the judgment of the great mass that finally decides. What initially was a financial failure is now viewed as one of the most ground breaking opera’s ever composed. After Gershwin labored for nine years he said, “I really can’t believe I wrote it. ” Gershwin most certainly created a masterpiece that is beautiful, meaningful and had an enormous impact on opera and music and society as we know it.