ANG Newspapers Classical Music Column - October 14, 2005,
There aren�t many operatic baritones in the world who can give a concert one night and run a foot race the next day. But, the fit and feisty Rodney Gilfry plans to run the "U.S. Half Marathon" (a formidible 13.1 miles rather than the whole whopping 26.2) later this month, after giving a solo recital the night before in Santa Rosa.
And, a few days before all that, on October 18 in San Francisco, Gilfry will join with a group of other musical luminaries to perform a Gala Concert benefiting the Camphill Communities in North America.
Host and honorary chairperson for the concert, entitled �Celebration at the Rim,� will be mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade. Other participants will be heldentenor Thomas Moser; mezzo-soprano Elena McEntire; flutist Paula Robison; pianist Steven Bailey; guitarist Romero Lubambo; percussionist Cyro Baptista; violinist Violaine Melancon, cellist Natasha Brofsky, and pianist Seth Knopp (members of the Naumburg Award-winning Peabody Trio); and harpist Rita Costanzi.
Supported by Ms. Von Stade for the past two decades, Camphill Communities is an organization, dedicated to social renewal through community-building with children, youth and adults with developmental disabilities. It was founded in 1939 in Aberdeen, Scotland and has since grown to include more than 100 Camphill communities throughout the world, thereby providing residential care, education, therapy and meaningful work for thousands.
Pamela Rosenberg (outgoing general director of the San Francisco Opera), Rosemary Hewlett, Martin Sheen, Roselyne Swig, Bruce Katz, Patricia Dinner, and Peter and Mimi Buckley are among the benefit�s high-profile committee members.
The concert, described as a �classical evening with a Latin beat,� will include a number of Brazilian compositions in addition to more traditional classics.
The U.S. Half Marathon, while not really designed as a charity event, is being used as such by Gilfry to raise money for Habitat for Humanity, the worldwide ecumenical Christian housing ministry that will be building homes for hurricane victims along the Gulf Coast. Check his website, www.gilfry.com, for information about how to sign up as a Gifry sponsor.�I�ll either finish the race or die!� the down-home-friendly Gilfry assured me.
In response to my question about what motivates him to perform in so many charity events, he said, �Life as an opera singer can be rather egocentric, with the world seeming to revolve around you and your voice. But, I have been so blessed and am so happy with my career and family,
that I really feel driven to use my talents to give something back to society. So, when Pamela (Rosenberg) first asked me to participate in the Camphill event, I, of course, said yes.�
He suggested that another reason for his Camphill interest was because his mother, who currently leads a childrens� choir, taught handicapped children in California public schools for 26 years. His father taught music and conducted the orchestra in public schools and could, according to Gilfry, �play almost every instrument in the orchestra with a considerable proficiency.� The rest of his family also displays uncommon musical ability: his sister is a jazz singer; his brother, a trumpet player and music teacher; and his 20-year-old daughter, a vocal student at USC. His 15-year-old son is a singer-songwriter with a rock band with a couple of CDs already to its credit, and his 18 year-old-daughter, while also musical, is studying creative writing, also at USC.
Born 46 years ago in Covina, California, Gilfry said that one of his earliest musical memories was of his father �blasting� Beethoven�s 9th Symphony over the family hi-fi.
�He would get almost giddy about the power of the music, especially the barrel-chested baritone�s singing. I came out thinking that it must be pretty �cool� to sing like that,� he said.
When at Claremont, California High School, Gifry was on both the wrestling and cross-country teams � and indeed, even now, at the age of 46, he has the build of a professional athlete as well as a star-power grin than can rival Julia Roberts�.
In addition to his athletics, he also sang the lead in a number of the high school�s musical productions. �We did L�il Abner in my last year,� he reminisced. �It was then that I really felt the power and thrill that a singer can have performing for an audience.�
Evidently, he also exerted some potent power over soprano Tina, his leading lady in many of the school�s musicals. When he was 21 the two married and started their family. He continued his education at California State University Fullerton, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and then at USC, where he was awarded a Master�s Degree in Vocal Arts.
His virile singing and vivid stage presence burst on the international opera scene when he sang the role of Stanley Kowalski in San Francisco Opera�s 1998 world premiere of Andre Previn�s A Streetcar Named Desire. He has since wowed audiences with an incredible versatility ranging from Baroque to 21st century masterpieces in such roles as Oreste in Gluck�s Iphigenie en Tauride; Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia; the title role in Mozart�s Don Giovanni; Papageno in The Magic Flute;� Count Danilo in The Merry Widow;� and the title roles in Monteverdi�s Il Ritorno d�Ulisse and Tchaikovsky�s Eugene Onegin.
He names Benjamin Britten�s Billy Budd as his current favorite role and is preparing to sing Jack London in composer Libby Larsen and librettist Philip Littell�s new opera Every Man Jack.
In addition to all of the above, marathon man Gilfry gives masterclasses throughout the country and continues his weekly radio broadcasts as co-host with Suzanna Guzmian for Los Angeles Opera Notes on Air on KMZT, 105.1 FM, Los Angeles.