Full plot summary here, totally out-of-story-order explanation of emotional context of songs below!
Bennett opens his Selection with the four chords that open Act II, scene three ("Honey dat's all de breakfast"). According to the libretto, these chords are the bells that "herald the day", so a perfect way to transport you into the world of Porgy and Bess. After that, the cellos come in with one deep, low iteration of the melody from "Bess you is my woman now" which serves as a bookend in this work. So remember this theme! It's coming back!
"Clara, Clara, Don't You Be Downhearted" is our first full selection in this arrangement, which is a dark way to jump in but it sure does have a gorgeous melody. A group of women are mourning those who died in the storm the night before, and singing their souls to heaven. They repeat this chorus three times, changing the name to another of the victims on each repeat.
Clara, Clara, don't you be downhearted, Clara, Clara, don't you be sad an' lonesome.
Jesus is walkin' on de water, rise up an' follow Him home. Oh, Lawd, oh my Jesus, rise up an' follow Him home.
This flows right into "A Woman Is a Sometimes Thing" which is a father's very poor attempt at a lullaby for his child after his wife's attempts (spoiler alert: her lullaby is "Summertime" and it's better).
Lissen to yo' daddy warn you, 'fore you start a-travelling, Woman may born you, love you, an' mourn you, But a woman is a sometime thing, Yes, a woman is a sometime thing.
Yo’ mammy is the first to name you, an` she’ll tie you to her apron string, Then she’ll shame you and she'll blame you till yo’ woman comes to claim you, ‘Cause a woman is a sometime thing, Yes, a woman is a sometime thing.
Don't you never let a woman grieve you Jus' cause she got yo' weddin' ring. She’ll love you and deceive you, then she'll take yo' clo’es and leave you, ‘Cause a woman is a sometime thing. Yes, a woman is a sometime thing.
The melody starts in the clarinet, slowly adding the rest of the woodwinds. As the music gets more worked up, the trumpets join and eventually the rest of the brass as well. The clarinet leads us out of "A Woman Is a Sometimes Thing", through a brief hint of the melody from this unpleasant foreshadowing motif of the stormy seas from Act II, and into "Summertime" (Bonus Audra McDonald version here in a different key). Summertime is Clara's lullaby to her baby in Act I, and she reprises it in Act II, as the town huddles in shelter during the hurricane, and the song appears again after Clara's death, when Bess sings it to Clara's baby. As I mentioned earlier, "Summertime" is possibly an adaptation of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and if you are like me, you can definitely sing one tune along with a recording of the other, especially after a cocktail or two. The melody here belongs to the high strings, flutes and oboes a.k.a. the generally "feminine" instruments of the orchestra*.
Summertime and the livin' is easy, Fish are jumpin', and the cotton is high. Oh, yo' daddy's rich, and yo' ma is good lookin', So hush, little baby, don' yo' cry.
One of these mornin's you goin' to rise up singin', Then you'll spread yo' wings an' you'll take the sky.But till that mornin', there's a-nothin' can harm you With Daddy an' Mammy standin' by.
To move us into our next tune, Bennett uses the same foreboding chords that open Act II, as Jake declares he'll be going out to fish, no matter what the weather threatens. These chords lead us into "I got plenty of nothin'". Porgy sings this aria early in Act II, about his new carefree outlook on life since Bess came to live with him.
Oh, I got plenty o' nuttin', An' nuttin's plenty fo' me.I got no car, got no mule, I got no misery. De folks wid plenty o' plenty got a lock an dey door, 'Fraid somebody's a-goin' to rob 'em while dey's out a-makin' more. What for? I got no lock an de door, (dat's no way to be) Dey kin steal de rug from de floor, Dat's okeh wid me, 'Cause de things dat I prize, Like de stars in de skies all are free.
Oh, I got plenty o' nuttin', An' nuttin's plenty fo' me. I got my gal, got my song, got Hebben de whole day long! No use complainin'! Got my gal, got my Lawd, got my song.
I got plenty o' nuttin', An' nuttin's plenty fo' me. I got de sun, got de moon, got de deep blue sea. De folks wid plenty o' plenty, Got to pray all de day. Seems wid plenty you sure got to worry How to keep de debble away. I ain't afrettin' 'bout hell Till de time arrive. Never worry long as I'm well, Never one to strive to be good, to be bad, what de hell, I is glad l's alive.
STOP! CELLO SOLO TIME!