The cultural impact of Gershwin's 1935 opera Porgy and Bess will be examined in a 90-minute Great Performances program, "Porgy and Bess: An American Voice," which airs on PBS Feb. 4 at 10 PM ET (check your listings).
The program features footage from various incarnations of the opera including a television adaptation based on the much-praised '86 Glyndebourne Festival production -- directed by Trevor Nunn -- as well as interviews with Todd Duncan and Anne Brown, who created the title roles on Broadway. (Duncan, it might be added, went on to a career as a respected voice teacher; his students include Crazy for You and Steel Pier's Ronn Carroll.)
Among the other interviewees are William Warfield, who appeared with Leontyne Price in the historical '52 production that toured Europe and caused quite a stir in Russia, and Diahann Carroll, who talks about the '59 film version of the opera.
The program also provides a thorough examination of the history of Porgy and Bess, which was based on the 1925 novel Porgy, written by Southern bluebood DuBose Heyward in response to a newspaper account of a legless beggar.
The PBS documentary is a 12-year labor of love by producer James A. Standifer, a professor of music education at the University of Michigan. The documentary is directed by Nigel Noble and narrated by Ruby Dee. -- By Rebecca Paller