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The Week Ahead

An ear for what's out of the ordinary

January 07, 2008|Lynne Heffley

Veteran operatic baritone Rod Gilfry will perform an eclectic program of "some things not commonly heard," he says -- art songs and song cycles by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ricky Ian Gordon, Ottorino Respighi and others -- under the auspices of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

He's most excited about five songs by Argentine composer Carlos Lopez Buchardo. "I was introduced to these songs by a pianist in New York and always wanted to do them again," he says. "They're so distinctive in their harmonies and rhythms, so distinctly South American. My pianist [Alan Smith] and I have been sort of gaga over them."

And Gordon has his own distinctive harmonic language, says Gilfry, who will perform the composer's songs based on texts by Edna St. Vincent Millay, W.B. Yeats and ee cummings. "I'm excited about getting those songs out in front of people too, since most of them are unknown."

Also on the schedule: Vaughan Williams' "Songs of Travel" cycle, based on poems by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Praised not just for his lyric baritone but for his acting chops and ability to connect with audiences, the Grammy-nominated Gilfry is often described as unusually "hunky" for the opera stage. Among his signature roles: Stanley Kowalski in Andre Previn's "A Streetcar Named Desire," Nathan in Nicholas Maw's "Sophie's Choice," and the title roles in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and Britten's "Billy Budd." In the recent premiere of the Libby Larsen-Philip Littell opera, "Every Man Jack," Gilfry originated the role of Jack London.

A California native and father of three, Gilfry has just added to his varied resume the job of assistant professor of voice at USC -- a flexible position, he stresses, structured around his international operatic career. "It's an ideal fit" for a globe-trotting singer with regular stops at Los Angeles Opera, the Zurich Opera and many points between.

This self-described "happy risk-taker" -- who changed his name to Rod a few years ago because he felt his given name, Rodney, sounded too highfalutin -- has also had successes on the musical and cabaret stage and sometimes plays the guitar onstage. "I just enjoy pushing the boundaries," he says.

-- Lynne Heffley

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