A veteran music critic and historian excavates the long-buried story of the signal contributions made to the original staged production of Porgy and Bess by director Rouben Mamoulian (1897–1987).
Horowitz (Moral Fire: Musical Portraits from American’s Fin de Siècle, 2012, etc.) has more than one entree on his narrative plate. Throughout, he reminds us of the condescension that many in “high” music culture displayed toward Gershwin, and he reprints a number of comments from reviews of Porgy and Bess (and of other Gershwin works) that demonstrate a reluctance to take him seriously. Gershwin’s story is prominent, but the author has done his greatest service by escorting Mamoulian back out onto the stage and celebrating his many accomplishments as a stage and film director. But Horowitz begins with his own “epiphany” about Gershwin. He had adopted the received opinions about the composer, but then, later, he began identifying almost Wagnerian aspects of his composition, and his opinion escalated. The author then tells the story of the original 1925 novella Porgy by DuBose Heyward. He explains how Heyward and his wife converted it into a stage play and how Mamoulian altered the script, directed the play and became, for a while, a star himself. Horowitz emphasizes Mamoulian’s ferocious planning for a production—every movement, rhythm, sound, silence and shadow. And we see, too, how his casts deeply respected and cared for him. Mamoulian went out to Hollywood, and the author talks about each of his films and writes almost in celebration of Love Me Tonight (1932). He carefully describes Mamoulian’s contributions to Porgy and Bess and his subsequent success directing the original productions of Oklahoma! and Carousel. He was hired to direct the film of Porgy and Bess, but all fell apart—as did Mamoulian’s career.
A resurrection story that offers a significant contribution to the history of American popular theater.