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Press Release for Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Porgy and Bess" Marks 75th Anniversary at UNF


Carl Holman

Asst. Director of Marketing & Communications

(904) 620-1921

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of George Gershwin’s enduring masterpiece, a new production of “Porgy and Bess” is being mounted by veteran opera producer Michael Capasso, general director of New York’s vibrant Dicapo Opera, at 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 12, at the University of North Florida Fine Arts Center.


“Porgy and Bess,” featuring a stellar cast and live orchestra, will be directed by renowned American Charles Randolph-Wright, writer and director of the film “Mama I Want to Sing” to be released February 2010, and conducted by music director Pacien Mazzagatti.This production features a new orchestration by Mazzagatti, brand-new sets designed by John Farrell, costumes by Ildikó Márta Debreczeni, and lighting by Susan Roth. 


In its 75-year history, no other opera or musical has employed more African-Americans. The work was not widely accepted in the United States as “real” opera until 1976, when the Houston Grand Opera staged “Porgy and Bess” with the original score and orchestration. Nine years later, the Met gave its first performance of the work, including it in its Saturday afternoon live broadcast series.


Passion, jealousy, murder, and poverty make up the heady brew of this evocative story. Porgy, a downtrodden but generous beggar, haunts the streets known as “Catfish Row,” a poor district of early 20th century segregated Charleston, S.C. Ardently in love with the prostitute Bess, Porgy has to share his affections with her violent former lover Crown and the roguish suitor Sportin’ Life. Written by George Gershwin to a libretto by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin, “Porgy and Bess” has enjoyed spectacular fame all over the world since its first modest production in New York City in October of 1935. This operatic masterpiece has spawned a string of hit songs that have become international icons of the American tradition. 


Capasso,who has been the driving force behind the myriad projects produced by Dicapo Opera Theatre, extols the virtues of “Porgy and Bess.” “Irresistible in its melodies, moving in its depiction of love’s power in the face of all odds, ‘Porgy and Bess’ stands before the world as the greatest opera ever written by a native-born American,” he said. “It has long been a dream of mine to produce this quintessentially American operatic classic, and I hope and trust that audiences all across the country will share my enthusiasm for this new production of George Gershwin’s true masterpiece.”


Although Gershwin had hoped for “Porgy and Bess” to be premiered at the Metropolitan Opera, his plans were thwarted by the sudden death of Metropolitan Opera Board Chairman Otto Kahn. The opera toured in Europe as well as North and South America throughout the 1950s, and it was the first work by an American to be produced at La Scala in Milan, Italy. It enjoyed tremendous success at the Vienna Volksoper, Leningrad’s Palace of Culture, and London’s Stoll Theatre, and it was this tour that launched the career of Leontyne Price. 


Individual tickets are $68, $58, and $45 for the general public and $15 for students.  For complete information about any shows or to purchase single tickets, visit or call the UNF Ticket Box Office at (904) 620-2878.  Patrons can visit the Box Office in person at UNF, Building 8, 1 UNF Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32224. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 2 hours prior to show time.