A great deal of ink has been spilled defining, dissecting and dissing the American dream, particularly in the post-WWII era. So too in recent months as US citizens have been forced to think again about many aspects of society. Immigration, Black Lives Matter, Obamacare and the poverty trap are all seemingly up for reassessment in our new post-truth future. But were things all that different in the first half of the last century? Maybe not, but there were a couple of subsidiary American dreams back then to which many were applying their industry: to write an authentic American opera and to tell original African American stories through music in a form that would appeal to black and white audiences alike. The history of Porgy and Bessis the realisation of both of those dreams in one.

Despite the enthusiasm of emergent American composers and their patrons in the early 1900s to engage with the vernacular and write something distinctively ‘American’, it was the burgeoning West Coast film industry that pulled the musical focus and attracted the cream of new writing talent. Ironically many of those first Hollywood composers were European émigrés like Korngold, Steiner and Waxman – the former had...