Spoleto seeks local singers for ‘Porgy & Bess’

Catfishing for Talent


A design sketch from "Porgy and Bess" - JONATHAN GREEN
  • Jonathan Green
  • A design sketch from "Porgy and Bess"
This year’s Spoleto Festival USA is noticeably different from Spoletos of years past: Charleston itself is sort of the thematic glue that holds this year’s offerings together. For starters, there’s “Grace Notes: Reflections for Now,” Carrie Mae Weems’ multimedia, poetic think-piece on President Barack Obama’s eulogy at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. And then there’s celebrated jazz vocalist René Marie’s “Be the Change,” a work inspired, like “Grace Notes,” by the tragic deaths of the Emanuel Nine. And finally, there’s the signature show of the 2016 Spoleto season, “Porgy and Bess.”

As you know, the George Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin classic American opera is set in Charleston, specifically the fictional Catfish Row. Charleston’s very own Jonathan Green is contributing to the overall visual design — his wind-blown Gullah-inspired visions are sure to provide a colorful backdrop to this three-hour affair — but it will touch back, at least subtly, on Mother Emanuel. Who knows how that will be accomplished or, more importantly, how audiences will react to what could either come across as a truly powerful moment or an anachronistic misstep. Still, you have to admire Spoleto Fest USA’s decision. Surely, the temptation to simply ignore the shooting must have been strong, and if it wasn’t, then further kudos to Nigel Redden and his team for refusing to ignore this devastating tragedy.

Speaking of “Porgy and Bess,” Spoleto is currently looking for 12-15 local singers to fill out the chorus to the folk opera. “Our director, David Herskovits, specifically wanted these additional roles to be filled by locals to enhance the community’s connection to the production,” Spoleto’s Jennifer Scott says. (Psst, all the lead spots are already taken, most notably Alyson Cambridge as Bess — this will be her first time singing this role —and Lester Lynch as Porgy. You can also see Cambridge sing the most famous tune from “Porgy,” the timeless and oft-covered “Summertime” on YouTube, if you’re interested in hearing her voice at its haunting best.)

According to Scott, these choral positions are supplementary in nature since the 20 members of the Johnson C. Smith University Concert Choir will serve as the core choral group while another 20 singers will fill other choral roles.

Auditions for the local chorus will take place Fri. Feb. 19 from 12-5 p.m. Interested parties should send a current resume, head shot, and cover letter to Assistant Producer Sara Bennett at auditions@spoletousa.org. More importantly, all singers should be prepared to sing two memorized selections, with at least one being an operatic aria and the other being from “Porgy and Bess.” The positions are paid.

Practices with the local chorus will begin on May 16, and the rehearsals are daily up to the opening of show on Fri. May 27.

The production team and main cast members for “Porgy and Bess” will arrive in Charleston at the end of April and begin rehearsals.

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