news letterOur mobile application

Weekly newsletter

Hungarian State Opera to Stage Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess with Hungarian Singers for the First Time in 40 Years

Fanni Kaszás 2018.01.11.

The first premier of the season at the Hungarian State Opera might go down in opera history as a world sensation: András Almási-Tóth will put the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess on stage with all Hungarian singers at the Erkel Theatre for the first time after the restriction of almost forty years that only allowed all-black casts to perform the piece.

When George Gershwin’s masterpiece Porgy and Bess was first staged in 1935, but in the racially challenging times, it suffered a rather unpopular public reception as some misunderstood the intention of the composer and felt aggrieved at the prejudice strengthening against African-Americans. From 1976, after Houston State Opera staged it, it became more and more popular with songs like I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’ or Summertime that had success as pop chart hits as well.

The libretto of Porgy and Bess tells the story of Porgy, a disabled beggar living in the slums of Charleston and deals with his attempts to rescue the drug-addict Bess from Crown, her violent lover, and Sporting Life, her drug dealer.


As an act in favour of the emancipation, the librettist and brother of the composer, Ira Gershwin introduced the rule of the all-black cast in the 1980s, a few years before his death. Before this rule was introduced, the Hungarian State Opera had put Gershwin’s piece on stage with its own artists in the 1970s.

In the past four decades neither the Hungarian State Opera, nor any other company were allowed to put Porgy and Bess on stage if not complying with the rules. In January 2018, following a two-year negotiation with the copyright holders, the restriction is lifted and having got the permission, the Opera produces the Gershwins’ masterpiece with excellent Hungarian singers.

Conducted by István Dénes of the Hungarian State Opera, the production features leading singers Marcell Bakonyi and András Palerdi as Porgy and Orsolya Sáfár and Gabriella Létay Kiss as Bess.

Venue: Erkel Theatre
Premiere: 27 January 2018
Further performances: 28 January, 1, 8 February 2018