Is this the year of "Porgy and Bess?" Surely there have been other vintage years for this popular George and Ira Gershwin opera, with illustrious productions and recordings of the work in recurrent cycles ever since its premiere in 1935.

But this year, in addition to television exposure, Utahns may see "`Porgy" live in two performances at the Capitol Theater, Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 15 and 16, at 7:30 p.m. The engagement is co-sponsored by Utah Opera and Theater League of Utah.This opportunity is cause for rejoicing. A full-scale production, live in Utah, with a stellar cast drawn from America's fine black artists singing the jazz/classic genre in which they excel, is the chance of a lifetime. And "live"' has an ambience, a presence, that you can't come by in any other way.

What Utahns will see is the "Charleston production," so called because it started there this past January, in Catfish Row's hometown, with a collaboration between the Charleston Symphony and Living Arts Inc. of New York City. The orchestra and singers then proceeded on a highly acclaimed tour through the spring of 1993.

Now the company is in the midst of a 13-week tour of the U.S. and Canada. They perform the Houston Grand Opera edition, which was purged of many little editing changes that had sneaked in over 50 years and was restored to Gershwin's original intentions. Audiences reportedly react ecstatically to this leaner, authentic version.

David Stahl, music director of the Charleston Symphony, continues to conduct the show, with a symphony orchestra of 20 and singing company of 30. The Catfish Row setting designed by James Fouchard is minimal, but reportedly handsome, airy and typical of Charleston.

Among many other "Porgy" credits, stage director Will Roberson was assistant director of the Houston production, which toured Paris, London and Italy. Roberson has said, "I agree with Hal Prince who said that `Porgy and Bess' is the one piece of American musical theater that will last forever. Hayward's libretto is like `Madame Butterfly' - it appeals to all cultures."

With seven or eight performances a week, the company alternates singers in each of the heavy major roles, most of them hold-overs from the original Charleston production, with impressive national and international operatic credentials, and experience in acclaimed recent productions of the work.

Sharing responsibilities as Porgy are Andre Solomon-Glover (see accompanying interview) and Brian Gibson. Gibson sang the role in 1992 in Buenos Aires' Teatro Colon, in Uruguay and Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Elizabeth Graham, Roberta Laws and Claudette McCargo play the role of Bess. Graham sang both Clara and Bess with the Houston Grand Opera and continues a career in opera and symphony engagements while teaching at the University of Florida. Laws, a winner of Metropolitan Opera regional auditions, has sung Bess in Hartford, Syracuse, and in concert with the Charleston Symphony. McCargo made her operatic debut in "`Aida" in Buffalo and has sung several roles in "Porgy."

As the virile Crown, Living Arts presents Stephen Finch, a veteran of the role in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Jacksonville and Buenos Aires. Angela R. Simpson and Marenda Perry alternate as Serena - Simpson having sung in the Metropolitan Opera's "Porgy," with Virginia Opera, in Berlin, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Perry sang in "Porgy" at Radio City Music Hall, in Florence and Berlin, and at the Met.

Vanessa Stewart, who plays Clara, sang with Houston Grand Opera in Paris and has appeared in "`Dreamgirls" and "Blues in the Night." Cornelius White brings experience as Sportin' Life from Radio City Music Hall, Houston Grand Opera and the Met. He also debuted at New York City Opera in "X: the Life and Times of Malcolm X." Artists in lesser roles offer equally impressive credentials.

Tickets for "Porgy and Bess" at $30, $35 and $40 are on sale at the ArtTix box office in the Capitol Theater, at ArtTix outlets in Albertson markets, or by calling 355-ARTS.