By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
Symphony. Alexandre Treger, conductor; Rod Gilfry, baritone
Sunday, October 23, 2011, 6 p.m. Royce Hall (UCLA)
Free admission ($10 donation suggested)
If ever a musical were aptly named for a singer, it would be
The Most Happy Fella for baritone Rod
Gilfry (right), the West Covina native who grew up in Claremont and now lives a
most happy — and busy — life juggling several different roles.
His latest performance comes Sunday when he will appear as
soloist in the opening concert of the American Youth Symphony Orchestra season
at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Gilfry will sing selections from Carousel, West Side Story, Sweeney Todd and A Most Happy Fella. AYS Music Director Alexander Treger will also
lead his ensemble of youthful musicians (who range in age from 15-27) in
Leonard Bernstein’s Candide Overture
and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.
In addition to his many performing gigs, Gilfry holds the
Steven Crocker Chair at the USC Thornton School of Music, where he is an
associate professor of vocal arts and operea. “Because it’s an endowed chair,
the position allows me to perform quite a bit and work my teaching schedule
around my performances,” says Gilfry. “The school encourages me because performing
has great teaching value for my students.”
In fact, says Gilfry, the school agreed for him to spend the
first six months of 2010 appearing in the national tour of the highly
successful revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, a schedule that included a major stop at the
Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center for which Gilfry won a Garland Award.
Earlier this year Gilfry also made 14 performances playing the title role in Sweeney Todd at the Thtre du Chtelet in
Paris and appeared 13 times this summer as Frank Butler in Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun at the Glimmerglass
Festival in Cooperstown, NY.
It hasn’t all been musical theater, however. “I enjoy both,”
says Gilfry, “but I don’t want people to get the impression that all I do is
musical theater. I still consider myself to be principally an opera singer.” Last
fall, he created the title role in the world premiere of Marc-Andr Dalbavie’s
opera Geusaldo at the Zurich Opera
and next March he will appear as Don Alfonso in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte for the New York City Opera.
He’s also had plenty of concert opportunities during the
past few years. Gilfry recently sang the role of Lyndon Johnson in Steven Stucky’s
August 4, 1964 with the Dallas
Symphony in Dallas and at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, the title role in
Mendelssohn’s Elijah in San
Francisco, and gave the world premiere of a work by Jeremy Cavaterra at the Los
Angeles County Museum of Art in September.
Ironically, it was in the role of Joe a decade ago in The Most Happy Fella, the 1956 Frank
Loesser work, that Gilfry first began to add musical theatre back into to his
repertoire. Of course, that wasn’t Gilfry’s first exposure to the genre. He appeared
in five productions at Claremont High School and even more at Claremont United
Methodist Church as he was growing up.
Nor is Gilfry the first singer to make this transition. Italian
Opera star Enzio Pinza, to cite just one example, gained even wider fame when
he created the role of Emile DeBecque in the Broadway version of South Pacific. In recent years, such
opera luminaries as Deborah Voigt have followed suit.
The juggling act for Gilfry is hectic, but still satisfying.
“It’s challenging and a lot of hard work,” he agrees, “but I guess you could
say I’m a most happy fella.”
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.