Hanna HEMILA (Lumifilm OY), Anita OXBURGH (Migma Film )
Anne Brown originated the role of Bess in George Gershwin’s famous and controversial opera, Porgy and Bess. The opera opened on October 10, 1935, at the Alvin Theatre in New York City and ran for 124 performances; receiving mixed reviews and incurring the ire of many artists and social critics in the African-American community. The opera was revived in 1942 with Ms. Brown reprising her role of Bess. Gershwin’s opera was originally called Porgy until Gershwin and Ms. Brown collaborated on the music and her role as Bess. Because of Ms. Brown’s superb acting and soprano voice, Gershwin renamed the production Porgy and Bess. Ms. Brown also convinced Gershwin that the character of Bess must have her own aria. The reprise of “Summertime” became the song of Bess, Ms. Brown, and the world. Ms. Brown initiated the refusal to perform Porgy and Bess at the National Theatre, Washington, D. C. if the venue remained segregated as it was in the late 1930s, well before the Civil Rights Movement began. For thirty years after Ms. Brown starred in the high profile role of Bess in Porgy and Bess at age twenty-two and because African Americans were not hired for operatic productions in the U.S., Ms. Brown performed Lieder recitals and concerts at the most celebrated opera houses throughout the U.S., Europe, Canada, South America, and Asia. Her career as an opera singer was finally nurtured and appreciated when she moved to Norway in 1948 after marrying her third husband, a Norwegian ski jumper. She was deemed a national treasure of Norway as the country began to flourish post World War II. Ms. Brown has made few visits to the United States since settling in Europe. One very important return visit to Baltimore, Maryland, was to receive a long overdue recognition from the famed Peabody School of Music, where she was denied entry because of her race seventy years ago. Over the years while living in Europe, Ms. Brown directed performances of Porgy and Bess with non-black actors in many countries, including France, Finland and Norway despite a stipulation by George Gershwin’s estate that the opera not be performed by white actors. In her autobiography, Sanger fra en frossen gren (Songs from a Frozen Branch), Ms. Brown writes of her career, her philosophy of life, and love—its joys and disappointments. Currently divorced, she lives in Oslo and at the age of 92 continues to do light yoga and travel with friends.