Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Ain't It a Pretty Night

March 02, 2009

Rod Gilfry

Rod Gilfry is one of those artists I feel a special affinity for. This is in no small part due to the fact that I associate him with some of the most pleasant opera going experiences I’ve had. His commitment to twentieth-century and contemporary operas have led our paths to cross many times. Busoni’s Faust, Adès’ Prospero, St. François – you name it, he’s been there for me despite any shortcomings that may have been going on around him. So I always look forward to his recitals around town and this Sunday’s appearance on the Broad Stage in Santa Monica was not a disappointment. It was a well thought-out program of entirely American works with the exception of the second act soliloquy from Britten’s Billy Budd. The evening concerned songs of war and redemption featuring some new and unusual bits. After songs from Barber, Gilfry performed selections from a new song cycle written especially for him by Tom Randle. Yes, that Tom Randle, the tenor whose appeared in everything from Adams’ Death of Klinghoffer to Jenufa. He appeared with Gilfry last summer in Amsterdam as Frère Massée opposite Gilfry’s St. Francois to great effect and apparently began working on this cycle, Epitaph, at the time. The songs represent a variety of sources both in English and in translation on war and its aftereffects. And while they may not be musically revolutionary, there is a lot of thematic meat to chew on. The selections here ended with "Night in Al-Hamra" a beautiful meditation on the uniformity of loss during conflict. Gilfry is obviously committed to the work and gave it his all.

He did seem a little stiff in the early part of the evening and had a little trouble in the run up to some of the high notes, but he settled in and by the second half of the program was solid and vibrant. The rest of the program included works from Bernstein, Ives, and ended with Billy Bigelow's soliloquy from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. The works were handled with a growing intensity and real outpouring of emotion. It was a very USC-centered affair with accompaniment from Alan Smith, Gilfry’s fellow faculty member. Best of all, the show ended with a surprise duet between Gilfry and his daughter, a voice student at the USC Thorton School of Music, singing a new arrangement of Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure on this Shining Night.” It was a beautiful end to this very enjoyable performance from one of Southern California’s own.


You seem to have an "affinity" for singers with no semblance of a true vocal technique: Bartoli, Gilfry...

You should listen to more dead singers to hear what is missing from most of today's "talent." Very few can pull off a true bel canto technique today. Certainly not ghastly Bartoli with her thin, quivering sound and facial contortions, and definitely not Gilfry with his tight baritone pushed beyond the bounds of vocal beauty for the sake of (near) audibility.

Otherwise, I love your blog. How do you have time (or money) to see nearly a show a day?
Gilfry's not one of my favorite singers but he's definitely one of my favorite performers, and he's the bomb onstage. Glad you had such a nice evening, and I have the same question as "anonymous": how do you have the time/money to see nearly a show a day? I hope you're getting press tickets to most of them because you certainly deserve it.
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