GREENSBORO — Although the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts won’t open until March 2020, it has already announced its first booking.
Greensboro native and Grammy Award-winner Rhiannon Giddens will star in Greensboro Opera’s performance of “Porgy and Bess” there on Nov. 13 and Nov. 15, 2020.
David Holley, the opera company’s general and artistic director, announced the booking Tuesday at Swann Middle School.
This won’t be the first event at the new downtown performing arts center, currently under construction. That has not yet been disclosed.
But it’s the first booking revealed for the $84.7 million, 3,000-seat venue, which will be managed by Greensboro Coliseum staff.
Giddens, a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipient who travels the world to perform, attended Tuesday’s announcement.
She has been in town to perform and guest curate the inaugural N.C. Folk Festival last weekend.
“I’m really looking forward to 2020,” Giddens told the crowd comprised of city, Guilford County Schools and opera company officials and Swann students.
Construction on the Tanger Center progresses on the downtown site bordered by North Elm and East Lindsay streets and Abe Brenner Place.
When it’s finished, the public will find a state-of-the-art venue where they also can attend touring Broadway shows, rock concerts, comedians, Greensboro Symphony Orchestra performances and Bryan Series lectures.
Holley will stage direct the production of composer George Gershwin’s famous “Porgy and Bess.”
He has not yet announced who will fill the role of Porgy opposite Giddens’ Bess.
Awadagin Pratt, a faculty artist at the Eastern Music Festival, will conduct the opera’s orchestra.
Elvira Green, a Greensboro resident and opera board member, will serve as artistic adviser. The veteran mezzo-soprano performed in “Porgy and Bess” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
“Porgy and Bess” was first performed in Boston in 1935 before it moved to Broadway. It featured a cast of classically trained African-American singers, revolutionary casting at the time.
With familiar tunes such as “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “My Man’s Gone Now,” it’s a story about community: love for each other, struggles and redemption, and overcoming adversity.
The Swann student chorus opened Tuesday’s announcement with a verse from “Summertime.”
Giddens graduated from Ohio’s Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where she sang the title role in “Romeo et Juliette.”
She did graduate-level work in vocal performance at UNC-Greensboro, where Holley is the director of opera. Giddens sang in “Little Women” and “Susannah” there.
She also has acted on television, appearing in a recurring role in the CMT musical drama “Nashville.”
This will mark her first performance in “Porgy and Bess.”
“It’s kind of a rite of passage for so many African-American performers, doing ‘Porgy and Bess,’” Giddens said. “I’m excited to join that brotherhood and sisterhood of black performers who have done it.”
In its contract, the Gershwin estate says the opera must be performed by a black cast, Holley said.
Just as “Porgy and Bess” is a story about community, the Greensboro Opera production is a community effort, Holley said.
For more than 25 years, Greensboro Opera and county schools have partnered to provide cultural experiences to students, including “Opera at the Carolina,” which annually brings more than 6,000 fifth-graders to the Carolina Theatre. The annual program also includes a “Write Your Own Opera” contest.
In a 2014 Greensboro Opera residency at Swann Middle School (then Aycock Middle) — financed by ArtsGreensboro — students wrote and performed their own opera.
With arts education at the core of the opera company’s mission, county schools and local university students, staff members and teachers will be involved on stage and behind the scenes in “Porgy and Bess.”
Additional partners in the project include VF Corp., Kathy Manning and Randall Kaplan, Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, area universities (including UNC-Greensboro and N.C. A&T), ArtsGreensboro and the city’s cultural arts master plan task force chaired by Jacquie Gilliam and City Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann.
They were among those appearing at Tuesday’s announcement.
For “Porgy and Bess,” ticket prices will range from $40 to $125, Holley said.
Greensboro Opera is accepting $25 priority deposits to put patrons first in line for the seats of their choice, before tickets go on sale to the general public Nov. 16.
Visit www.greensboro opera.org or call the Greensboro Opera office at 336-273-9472 for detailed deposit information.
Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.