In my recent #BLM post, I mentioned in passing the ongoing discussions about Porgy and Bess. Last week, the noted scholar Joseph Horowitz produced a roundtable under the title "Porgy and Bess and the American Experience of Race." On incendiary topics of our day—race and casting, stage make-up, cultural appropriation—the conversation was civil, collegial, informed, and enlightening.
The participants? Conrad L. Osborne, likely the finest thinker on opera the United States has ever produced and the author of Opera as Opera: The State of the Art, was on hand. Likewise the trailblazing African American tenor George Shirley, who shared the stage with divas like Birgit Nilsson and Montserrat Caballé and has a tale to tell of one's distinguished critic's implicit bias. The versatile bass-baritone Kevin Deas, whose Porgy has been hailed on at least three continents, speaks to the experience as well as the meaning of taking a knee. For historical perspective, there's "Where is my Bess?" as recorded by the great American baritone Lawrence Tibbett (1896-1960), who was white.