Classical Music Buzz > Out West Arts > 10 Questions for...Rod Gilfry
Rod Gilfry Photo: Dana Patrick
Rod Gilfry is one of those artists I sometimes feel I can measure my own opera-going history by. The baritone is tied to some of my fondest opera going memories, which makes me in no way unique in that he is for so many people, particularly here in Southern California. One of the many things I admire about him is his commitment and interest in 20th Century and newer music. He famously created the roles of Stanley Kowalski in Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Nathan in Nicholas Maw’s Sophie’s Choice. He was my first St. Francois - a role he received one of his two Grammy nominations for after it was released on DVD in the only commercially available video recording of the work. And his turn as Busoni’s Faust and Prospero in the American premiere of Thomas Adès The Tempest were personal touchstones as well as landmarks in a career filled with great performances. His Don Giovanni, Billy Budd, and Papageno were staples around the world and his work in musical theater has been no less influential. And while he’s taken on academic duties at The University of Southern California in recent years, his schedule is still jam packed with exciting performances. He’ll open in the title role of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd for Opera Theater St. Louis this Saturday (which I’ll be writing about later on.) His latest recording and DVD My Heart is so Full of You of American songbook standards is currently available online at CD Baby. It's just one of many notable performances he's recorded over his great career. Luckily Mr. Gilfry took some time out of his preparation as the demon barber of Fleet Street to answer the OWA 10 Questions.
  1. What role would you most like to perform, but haven’t yet?
    Jokanaan in Salome has always been my dream. I covered the role at the L.A. Opera back in 1986 when I had no business singing it, and thank God I didn't have to go on! After one rehearsal, one of my colleagues said "You know, Rod, some of it is actually sounding pretty good!" I said "Thanks! I just wish I were 20 years older..." My colleague replied "You will be." 26 years later I'm still not sure I'm right for it. But I would love to take a crack at another Strauss role: Mandryka in Arabella.
Rod Gilfry as St. Francois d'Assise in 2008

  1. What role would you never perform, even if you could?
    I never say never. I'm stupid enough to entertain any possibility.
  2. You’ve worked with nearly every major conductor and vocalist in the opera world over the length of your career. Is there someone you haven’t worked with yet you’d like to?
    Gustavo Dudamel is at the top of my current wish list.
  3. A remarkable number of your performances over the years have been preserved on both audio and video. Is there a particular recording you are glad was saved for posterity?
    I did a "semi-staged" Don Giovanni at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam with John Eliot Gardiner that was really magical, and I am really glad it was recorded and distributed as a video. It's some of my best work. You never know how something will turn out, so it was lucky that it all came together the way it did.
  1. You’ve been associated with the works of many living composers including Marc-André Dalbavie and Thomas Adès and created numerous roles for the opera stage such as Nathan in Nicholas Maw’s “Sophie’s Choice” and Stanley Kowalski in Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.” What’s the best thing about working with a living composer?
    It's much easier to talk to a living composer. But there is a common misconception: you might assume that a role would be "tailor-made" to your voice if you can collaborate. This is not usually the case. The composers that are happy to change what they've written for you are definitely in the minority. I am grateful for the ones that are true collaborators.
  2. Which music made you want to sing opera?
    There was no one piece that got me into opera. In high school, I was deeply affected by the classical music I experienced in the small Chamber Singers group. That lead me to a Bachelor's degree in music, where I encountered opera for the first time. I did some small roles in the university's opera productions, and really enjoyed that. I had done many musicals in high school, and opera was like a musical but with more sophisticated music and foreign languages. I sort of slipped into opera without really deciding to.
  3. As a baritone you’ve gotten to play both saints, like Messiaen’s St. Francis, and sinners, like Sweeney Todd, a role you’ll be singing later this month with Opera Theater St. Louis. Is it more fun being good or bad onstage?
    I always hope to be good, regardless of the role! But seriously, both kinds of roles have their attractions and challenges. Bad is somehow much easier to portray. But I do feel better after a rehearsal of a good guy, like Billy Budd. And it's easier to be a good guy offstage if that's what you've been practicing for 6 hours a day. Once, when I was rehearsing Don Giovanni in L.A., I got irritated with our daughter Erica for her room being a mess. She went to my wife, Tina, and said "I like Daddy better when he's playing Billy Budd!"
  1. Your iPod is destroyed by a vengeful mezzo. Which lost tracks would you miss most?
    Ha ha! I have everything backed up in the Cloud! But what would I miss if the Cloud somehow evaporated? Seriously, it would be the tracks from my son's band American Royalty. He's the songwriter, lead singer and guitarist. His music is much closer to my heart than any opera.
  2. What's your current obsession?
    Spelling everything correctly for this interview. I'm not an obsessive guy, unless it has to do with food. A recent obsession was creating the perfect Thanksgiving martinis. I created Pumpkin Pie- and Apple Pie Martinis that I was pretty proud of! OK, actually, they were fantastic.
  3. What can we look forward to next from Rod Gilfry?
    The CD and DVD version of my one-man show My Heart is So Full of You was just released, and is available online at CD Baby and for purchase during the OTSL festival this year. In July, I'll be starring as "Prospero" in Thomas Adès' The Tempest at the Québec City Opera Festival in a spectacular production by Robert Lepage. And this Fall, I will start work on a Christmas album, which will be released in the Fall of 2013.
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