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For immediate release
October 21, 2005
Contact:
Chad Campbell, NPR:
ccampbell@npr.org | 202.513.2304

NPR to Offer Landmark Live Broadcast on November 12 Of Porgy and Bess, On Gershwin Opera's 70th Anniversary

Washington National Opera Production Features New Interpretation of Classic American Work; Program Marks NPR's First-Ever Live Opera Broadcast As Part of Its Unique World of Opera Weekly Series

Washington, D.C. – Porgy and Bess, American composer George Gershwin's legendary "folk opera," will be honored on its 70th anniversary with a special new production by the Washington National Opera and the first-ever live opera broadcast from NPR.

NPR's broadcast will air on more than 100 NPR Member stations across the U.S. Saturday, November 12, 1:30-5:30PM (ET) through NPR's ongoing World of Opera series (stations and broadcast times are available at NPR.org/stations). NPR will also audio web cast Porgy and Bess live in its entirety on its Web site, NPR.org, and the complete broadcast will remain available to hear anytime, as part of the NPR.org archive of live concerts, at NPR.org/music.

Additional NPR Member stations will be airing the special in November and December. Twenty-six European broadcasters will also air the NPR production on Saturday, December 10 as part of a special "EuroRadio" broadcast from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

NPR's World of Opera host Lisa Simeone will anchor the live broadcast, which will feature interviews with cast members and others involved in the special production, including Washington National Opera General Director Plácido Domingo. It will also offer commentary and features that explore the landmark opera's history, the personalities behind it and its social context over 70 years. These include special archival interviews with the late Todd Duncan, who originated the role of Porgy in the 1935 Broadway premiere, and with William Warfield, who famously performed the title role opposite Leontyne Price's Bess in the groundbreaking 1952 revival.

"The music and the story of Porgy and Bess make up an indelible part of our American cultural fabric," said Benjamin Roe, Director of Music, NPR. "The opera marries some of Gershwin's most beloved melodies with original and powerful stage personalities. We hope that the Washington National Opera's all-new production, with an outstanding director and cast, and NPR's unique opportunity to share this broadcast with a global audience, adds another milestone on Porgy and Bess' path to acceptance as the definitive, most important American opera."

Although NPR has built a 35-year reputation for offering live music through its programming – most recently, the five-hour "Higher Ground" Katrina Hurricane Relief Concert and "Silk Road Journeys" with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble – a live opera is a special challenge. "There is nothing more difficult to record than an opera for future broadcast," according to Roe. "You have to worry about the sound of the orchestra, the quality and character of the solo voices – which can change dramatically from night to night – as well as the voices in the chorus, along with the dancing and stage movement. You have to prepare for every kind of contingency and you need to make split-second decisions." With a live broadcast, however, "All of those risk factors increase exponentially,” Roe added. But we also believe that the immediacy and the power of Porgy and Bess would be most effective through the live experience and we're willing to take those risks."

his production of Porgy and Bess also marks the first time it is being presented by the Washington National Opera, which will produce it October 29 through November 19. The global cast features internationally-renowned baritone Gordon Hawkins, along with Kevin Short, Indira Mahajan, Morenike Fadayomi, Terry Cook, Lester Lynch, Angela Simpson, Dara Rahming, Laquita Mitchell and Alyson Cambridge. Award-winning American director Francesca Zambello will be directing her new conception of the work, with conductor and Gershwin specialist Wayne Marshall offering a new interpretation of the melodic score with the 58-member Washington National Opera Orchestra, including banjo and jazz pianist Eric Reed.

Porgy and Bess, a bittersweet tale of love found but then lost, made its world premiere in October 1935. It follows the ill-fated romance sparked between Porgy, a disabled beggar, and the beautiful, troubled Bess. A commercial failure during its first Broadway run, it also initially baffled critics, who couldn't figure out how to label it: an opera or simply an ambitious American musical? Instead, it was recognized for crossing unprecedented barriers – not only for combining music, drama and opera, but also through its unique blend of traditional black church music, chords from Gershwin's Jewish heritage and quintessential American jazz. Finally, it secured its place as completely original and thoroughly American, and remains one of the most-performed works in the theatre. Porgy and Bess is by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin.

Led by Domingo, Washington National Opera is one of the leading opera companies in the United States and performs at the Opera House of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Cast and production information can be found at www.dc-opera.org

NPR's World of Opera is the only year-round series on U.S. radio devoted exclusively to presentations of live opera recorded around the world – covering the breadth of styles, centuries and subjects that make up this lively art form. It features opera companies from around the world, including New York, Washington and Houston as well as Paris' Bastille Opera and La Scala in Milan. It is part of NPR Music's wide-ranging programming for broadcast and online, including Performance Today, SymphonyCast, World Café, All Songs Considered, JazzSet with DeeDee Bridgewater and many others devoted to the performance and discovery of musical expression. For details, visit NPR.org

NPR is renowned for journalistic excellence and standard-setting news and entertainment programming. A privately supported, non-profit, membership organization, NPR serves a growing audience of 26 million Americans each week in partnership with more than 780 public radio stations. International partners in cable, satellite and short-wave services make NPR programming accessible anywhere in the world. With original online content and audio streaming, npr.org offers hourly newscasts, special features and eight years of archived audio and information.