My local library has a copy of the 1993 film of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, based on the Glyndebourne production, the same cast as the CD recommended by Anthony Tommasini. Why buy a CD when you can see this marvelous film?
The casting is outstanding. Only two of the voices are dubbed: Harolyn Blackwell as Clara and Bruce Hubbard as Jake, characters who sing the important arias "Summertime," that most beautiful of lullabies sung very sweetly here, and "A woman is a sometime thing," also sung to Clara's baby boy. The other parts are played by the singers, and all appear exactly as you would wish. Damon Evans is a wonderfully slimy Sportin Life. Cynthia Clarey as Serena sings the marvelously operatic "My man gone now." Crown played by Gregg Baker is appropriately sexually powerful and irresistable. Cyntha Haymon's Bess is beautiful enough to be fought over and sings very lyrically.
But this is Willard White's Porgy and Bess. Why call it anything else? His Porgy is monumental. He stands with the use of canes, making him powerful and anything but pathetic. Willard White is one of the great contemporary operatic baritones, with a beautiful voice and deep musical understanding. His performance changed my feeling about the opera completely. I liked a strong Porgy.
The details of this production are awesome: the woman smoking a corn cob pipe, everyone dressing up for the church picnic, e.g. The sense of faithful realism that pervades this film is rare in any medium, unheard of in opera.
Porgy and Bess is the iconic American opera, entirely unlike anything before or since, with the most American of stories and the most American music. In the triumvirate of theater--singing--music it is outstanding in all three. How did a pop composer like Gershwin write so well for operatic voices? P&B is a true opera.
Perhaps it took the English theater to make this opera really work. I've never seen it so well done as here. It is simply beautiful.