Simon Estes, Grace Bumbry, Angel Blue, Leona Mitchell & The Met Opera’s Historical Interpreters Of ‘Porgy and Bess’

By David Salazar
(Photo by Paola Kudacki/Metropolitan Opera)

The Metropolitan Opera will open its 2019-20 season with a new production of “Porgy and Bess.” The showcase on Sept. 23, 2019 will be the 55th in the company’s history and by the end of the run, the company will be inching toward 70 total performances of the opera.

As we prepare to go forward with one of the repertory’s most essential works, here is a look back at its history on NYC’s most prevalent stage.

The Openers

The opera’s first performance at the Met took place on Feb. 6, 1985 and featured a whopping 15 debuts including Charles Williams, Gregg Baker, Bruce Hubbard, Donald Osborne, Joseph Joubert, John Freeman-McDaniels, Michael Lofton, Mervin Wallace, Priscilla Baskerville, Milton B. Grayson, Jr., John D. Anthony, Clinton Chinyelu Ingram, Jay Aubrey Jones, Larry Storch, and Hansford Rowe. That season, the opera would get presented 16 times, with the final performance coming on April 4, 1985.

Grace Bumbry and Simon Estes would dominate most of the run with the former taking on eight of the 16 shows while the latter appearing in 12 of 16 performances. Estes would return for subsequent runs later in 1985 and then in 1990, managing 20 total performances of the title role in the process, more than anyone else in Met history. Meanwhile, Bumbry would make her return for two additional shows in 1986, performing the opera 10 times total over her Met career.

Robert Mosley would also appear during the opening run, his first performance coming on Feb. 23, 1985. He would appear four times in that initial run and would get another eight performances of the role in 1985-86.

Finally, once Bumbry was done with her first performances, Roberta Alexandra took over, singing the role of Bess 18 straight times throughout 1985, her final show coming at the end of November.

Revival Runs

The 1985-86 season revived the opera with Mosley and Alexander taking the lead. However, Priscilla Baskerville would take over the title role after performing a year earlier as Lily. She would get 17 performances in the title role throughout the 1985-86 run. But also in 1989 and 1990.

Michael Smartt would also appear during the 1985-86 run; like Baskerville, he had appeared in the opera previously, but in the role of Jim. After 15 performances as that character, he took on Porgy 10 times at the Met, with performances coming in 1989.

The New Decade & Century

Leona Mitchell would appear in the title role in January 1990 but would only feature in a total of four performances.

Terry Cook would also get his look as Porgy in early 1990, taking on the title role 10 times over the course of the year.

The 1990 performances were the last of the Met’s history. Nearly 20 years later, the opera will make a vaunted return with a cast that features Angel Blue and Eric Owens in the title role. Blue will sing all but one performance, which will be interpreted by Elizabeth Llewellyn. Owens will dominate the run this season, though Kevin Short is set for two shows in January.