Porgy & Bess



Disarming and electrifying


The vibrancy and quality of the choral singing is inspiring throughout

The Telegraph

Energy surges off the stage

London evening, Standard



The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess is an opera of extreme complexity and technical difficulty. With its requirements for a large chorus of enormously talented black singers, the opera is ideal for Cape Town Opera’s pool of performers.

This production of Porgy and Bess reflects the particular intensity and energy of South African singers. The daily reality of their lives and simply going home after a night’s work are more dangerous and more fraught with melodrama than any of the operas in which they perform.

The action is set in the same era as Apartheid’s highest arrogance and worst excesses. With forced removals, demolitions of ancestral dwellings, and lack of respect for human rights, life was all too expendable and miserable for those people so conveniently forgotten by the few who lived in comfort and security. This is the story of Porgy and Bess, and Cape Town Opera’s production of Gershwin’s classic work reflects the spirit of optimism that pervades contemporary South Africa.



The story begins in Mandela’s birthplace, in the town of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province of South

Africa. After his initiation into manhood and rejection of a traditional arranged marriage, Mandela decides his future lies beyond the Qunu hills and he flees to Johannesburg.

The narrative continues to act two with Mandela working as a lawyer in the township of Sophiatown, shortly before the Nationalist Party’s forced eviction of the township residents. Mandela’s political education and community leadership role becomes more pronounced during

this time, as he rallies black South Africans toward the African National Congress cause.

The story concludes in act three, with the repercussions of the Sharpeville Massacre, Mandela’s trial

and incarceration, and his eventual release from the infamous Robben Island prison.

From traditional Xhosa choral music, to jazz and jive dancing of the 1950s township dance halls; from struggle songs of the 1980s, to the liberation music of the 1990s, Mandela Trilogy celebrates the vibrant variety of South African music while dramatising the defining moments that shaped Mandela’s life.



Poverty, racism, class difference and displacement are universal issues. No matter against which background Porgy and Bess is set, these problems will always be with us, we face these social

imbalances inherent to the human race daily. When I first approached the piece after its long performance history in Cape Town I was struck by some of the parallels between the life in Catfish Row and urban society in South Africa.

As a creative team, we were inspired by pictorial depictions of township- and urban society life in Soweto during the seventies in South Africa, by photographers such as Jürgen Schadeberg, Chief

Photographer of the famous DRUM magazine and James Barnor. Urban society in the seventies in Soweto was a place where gangsterism was rife. The tsotsis were inspired to dress like American film

stars such as Richard Widmark, James Cagney and Edward G Robinson. Music-making on the streets and in shebeens were part of a seemingly contented everyday life. Dancing and music became a coping mechanism to the African working class. Gambling was a favorite pass-time and the richer swanky township–bosses engaged in all sorts of extra “business”. To escape the harsh realities of their lives people turned to the church, especially the African Independent Churches like the Zionist

Church. The Zionist church sprang from the Christian Catholic church in Zion Illinois, and was established in Africa by American missionaries in 1904. Apart from all the hardship, our townships have often been referred to as the place where the heart of the nation beats and a very strong

sense of community still exists today.

Transferring this South African township history into Porgy and Bess seemed a perfect fit.  The people of ‘Catfish Row’, a community who has ‘hijacked’ a derelict building, have lived here for some time, whilst newcomers seeking for shelter or a little corner to sleep, are almost always welcomed.

This still happens today in our modern day society. All the cultures of township life in Africa rule in “Catfish Row”.  The spirit of our nation is a unique one and Cape Town Opera is home to many

singers from different cultures and communities, some still living in townships, bringing their extraordinary voices, hearts and souls to their performances. With this production of Porgy and Bess, we strive to reflect a true sense of the South African people.

Christine Crouse, Director




Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires, Argentina


Teatro Real, Madrid, Spain


Grand-Théâtre, Opera National de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France

Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, Spain


Hessisches Staatstheater, Wiesbaden, Germany


Artscape Opera House, Cape Town, South Africa

Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, England

Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Wales

The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, England

The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, England

The London Coliseum, London, England

Arts Centre Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia (concert)

Berlin Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany (concert)


The Israeli Opera, Tel Aviv, Israel


Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Wales

Royal Festival Hall, London, England (concert)

Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland


Deutsche Oper Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Den Norske Opera, Oslo, Norway


Kinjani Festival, Hells Gate, Nairobi, Kenya (concert)

Malmö Opera, Malmö, Sweden


Artscape Opera House, Cape Town, South Africa

NorrlandsOperan, Umeå, Sweden



Cape Town Opera’s chorus is quite magnificent.


The Telegraph, UK


South Africa could rescue Opera… returning it to the passion, humanity, and personality that inspired the great operas in the first place.


Guardian, UK


The vivacious staging is everything one had expected and hoped for … the loose-limbed spirit of African dance is never far away… you’d need a heart of concrete not come out



The Times, UK


Be it the thrilling wake scene or the great “Doctor Jesus” ensemble where the entire

company comes downstage in a rising crescendo of impassioned and seemingly

random invocations, the effect is thrilling.


The Independent


Cape Town Opera’s Soweto Porgy and Bess was little short of a triumph. (They)

put on a show that’s thrilling from beginning to end… It’s hard to imagine Gershwin’s

masterpiece better done.


The Mail on Sunday, UK


A popular success and rightfully so, because the theatrical interpretation, in South African style, of the fantastic opera of George Gershwin is a worthy spectacular, well resolved and defended with an overwhelming display of energy by a team of singers, dancers and actors who let it all out on the stage.   

El Pais (Edicion Cataluña)