Bobby McFerrin Conducts the Best of Porgy and Bess | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Bobby McFerrin Conducts the Best of Porgy and Bess


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In the 60-odd years since the premiere of Porgy and Bess, George Gershwin's opera has steadily increased in stature and popularity, seducing new generations of performers with its gorgeous melodies and, for the more adventurous, its inventive and meticulous construction. (In fact, a new album by jazz saxophone icon Joe Henderson, due next month, reinvestigates this repertoire with electric guitar and contemporary jazz rhythms.) And with opera superstars Kevin Deas and Marvis Martin singing the title roles, in front of a cast handpicked by Bobby McFerrin (who will conduct the Ravinia Festival Orchestra), you'd have to put this concert in the can't-miss category: McFerrin needs only to follow the numbers to pull off a successful evening, though one wonders if he might do a little more than that. It's true that McFerrin doesn't sing a lick in this program--which he has presented only twice before--even though his unique baritone-to-soprano range and stunning versatility might allow him to sing all of the roles by himself. It's also true that since dedicating most of his energies to classical conducting a few years ago he has kept his talent for improvisation mostly in the closet, and that he'll play this concert exceedingly straight. But his collaborative album with Yo-Yo Ma (Hush) and his experimentation with new cadenzas when conducting Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 20 (as played by Chick Corea) prove McFerrin's willingness to incorporate spontaneity into a classical context when appropriate. And songs like "Summertime," "It Ain't Necessarily So," "Bess, You Is My Woman Now," and "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'," which have endured in the jazz repertoire for more than half a century, would seem to offer the perfect backdrop for McFerrin's worlds to collide. Wednesday, 8 PM, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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