A new exhibit at the College of Charleston offers a glimpse into the background, history and eventual success of the opera “Porgy and Bess.”
The exhibit in Addlestone Library’s Special Collections coincides with the release of a new book, “Porgy and Bess: A Charleston Story,” and a public lecture on May 31, 2016.
On display through August 2016 on the third floor of Addlestone Library, the exhibit features rare original materials, including correspondence between composer George Gershwin and writer DuBose Heyward on the creation of the opera, which are being publicly displayed for the first time, as well as a photograph of the real life prototype of Porgy, Sammy Smalls.
Featured cases provide biographical information on Heyward, the origin of the name Porgy, and the various incarnations of the work as a novel, play, opera and film. Highlighted as well is Dorothy Heyward’s attempt to make sure that her husband’s name and the Charleston connection of the opera would not be forgotten. The materials on display come from the South Carolina Historical Society, Special Collections at the College of Charleston, and a private collection.
“It’s like haiku,” says Harlan Greene ’74, head of Special Collections, who, along with his staff, curated the exhibit. “The constraints of exhibits are small and precise so that you have to choose your objects carefully. We’re letting the manuscripts, books, photographs and other memorabilia tell the Porgy story themselves. And it’s a great and powerful story spanning decades and continents.”
The exhibit opens in conjunction with the publication of “Porgy and Bess: A Charleston Story” (Home House Publishing 2016). Contributors to the book include Karen Chandler, associate professor of arts management; Damon Fordham; David Herskovits, Harlan Greene; Nigel Redden; Jennifer Scott; and Pam Wall. Four of the authors will give a free public lecture at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, May 31, 2016, on the third floor of Addlestone Library. These scholars will discuss many aspects of the book, play, and opera rooted in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Copies of the publication will be available for purchase, and a book signing will follow the talk.
The exhibit and publication come just as “Porgy and Bess” returns to the Charleston stage through Spoleto Festival USA. In addition to the live performances, which begin May 27, 2016, the City of Charleston and Piccolo Spoleto are offering a free simulcast of the opera in Marion Square at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, May 30, 2016.