The poor folk of Catfish Row are back onstage at the Kennedy Center, with all their warmth and kindness, passion and pettiness, superstition and faith, and they're as involving as ever in the brilliant Washington National Opera production of George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess."
This revival of the company's 2005 staging reconfirms the incisive elements of Francesca Zambello's directorial concept, which largely overcomes the work's 1930s stereotypes of African-Americans. She knows how to craft a true ensemble effort, so that a real sense of community is ever-present. Peter J. Davison's scenic design avoids a literal depiction of the opera's Charleston, S.C., setting; there's a more abstract expression of a ghettoized space, a mass of metal walls seemingly built out of fear and prejudice.
One of the two alternating casts is headed by Eric Owens, who produces a stirring wall of sound and makes every word register as Porgy; and Morenike Fadayomi, who sings Bess with a pure, often soaring tone and captures the character's tragic compulsions with theatrical fire.
Terry Cook does vivid work as Crown. Lisa Daltirus is an exceptionally affecting Serena, Eric Greene is a rich-toned, sympathetic Jake. The impish Jermaine Smith makes the smarmy Sportin' Life wickedly appealing. Other highly expressive artists include Alyson Cambridge (Clara) and Gwendolyn Brown (Maria). The chorus and orchestra do galvanizing work. Conductor John Mauceri's affinity and affection for the score is felt at every turn.
"Porgy and Bess" runs through April 3 at the Kennedy Center. Tickets are $25 to $300. 800-876-7372 or dc-opera.org.