Monday, December 9, 2013


There's frost on the north side of the roofs this morning in Upland. A cold Santa Ana wind is blowing the fall leaves off the trees in Rancho Cucamonga.  There is snow on the San Gabriel Mountains, and the USC Fall semester is in its last week. 
Life goes on, even when we deal with loss. My mother-in-law Jane Estupinian died last week. We loved her very much. As we begin to emerge now from the isolation of bereavement, we see that the world did not even pause to acknowledge our sadness.  And that's OK. On a gorgeous day like today, the earth seems to be saying "Welcome back. Look at the beauty around you that has been here the whole time. I will give you strength.  Join me."  
Life is good. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

San Francisco Symphony concerts

Just returning from three wonderful concerts in San Francisco. Along with Maestro Pablo Heras-Casado,  and my colleagues Audrey Luna, Alek Shrader, Isabel Leonard, Charlotte Hellekant and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, we performed excerpts from Thomas Ad├Ęs' The Tempest as well as Mendelssohn's Die erste Walpurgisnacht.  It was a great experience.  My colleagues are all fantastic singers and that really added to the enjoyment of the three concerts that we did on three consecutive evenings. Maestro Heras-Casado is really nice guy, very down to earth, no ego crap going on. So it was a really nice collaboration. The Tempest is crazy hard to sing (and play, and conduct! ) but it went really well for everyone. The Symphony played beautifully, and in the Mendelssohn the chorus sang with real power and sensitivity.  I have a lot of admiration for the people of the San Francisco Symphony. They treated us with great care and respect and did a lot of very nice things for us, like taking us to and from the airport in a town car, providing very nice accommodations for everyone, having a sitdown dinner after the final performance at the wonderful little bistro down the street called Absinthe.  Yesterday afternoon my wife Tina and I enjoyed the wonderful weather at Hog Island restaurant in the Ferry Building on the East Bay, eating oysters on the half shell and clam chowder. It was a delightful end to a wonderful trip. I look forward to continuing my teaching at USC starting tomorrow. But I also look forward to any chance to go back to San Francisco: to sing at the Opera: to sing with the symphony, or to enjoy the quintessentially American city of San Francisco.  Tina's and my dream is to go to San Francisco, eat as many oysters on the half shell as we can possibly hold, and then spend a few days in the wine country! Just thinking about it makes me relax!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The future of the New York City Opera

The opera Anna Nicole is quite a marvelous creation. Marc Anthony Turnage created a score that's an amalgam of operatic, rock, jazz, blues and pop styles. The libretto, by Richard Thomas, is brilliant.  Very raunchy language, but what would a story about Anna Nicole Smith be without raunchy language?  The piece is constructed in a way that really moves along. I am very impressed.  Apparently there was a lot of editing before the London premiere: entire scenes being eliminated.  I applaud the composer for letting "his baby" be mutated.  Most modern opera composers abhor the slightest trimming of their scores, which are most often created in complete solitude, untested by an audience, or even in a workshop. My role, as Howard K. Stern, is really rich and fun. Turnage composed the part in a very wide range: 2 octaves.  But it's extremely well-written for my voice and enjoyable to sing. I am looking forward to singing it in the Royal Opera Covent Garden revival next year!

As we approach our last 2 performances of Anna Nicole, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I am feeling a little sad.  This could be the New York City Opera's final production.  Ever.  Because of fund-raising shortfalls, they need to raise $7 Million in the next 4 days to guarantee the rest of this season. (and a total of $20 million to guarantee next season.) Their $1 million Kickstarter Campaign has only raised $125,000 so far.  It's not looking good. Of course, I'm also sad because among the canceled productions this season would be Le Nozze di Figaro, in which I am contracted to sing the Count Almaviva, and the The Amazing Mr. Fox, in which our daughter Carin Gilfry Lawrence would sing Mrs. Fox.  A big blow to the Gilfry Dynasty.

I believe that the major problem with the New York City Opera's lack of donor support is its lack of a home.  It currently performs in various venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn. It has become a downsized, roving company.  The budget has been balanced since George Steel took over - a feat that deserves much praise - but the company still lacks a home.  I think the psychological effect on past and current donors is profound. The lack of a home theater engenders feelings of insecurity. I'm sure potential donors are saying "But where is my money going?"

New York City Opera's General Manager/Artistic Director George Steel introduced me to David H. Koch after the performance last night. David Koch paid for the renovation of the Lincoln Center theater (formerly the State Theater) that now bears his name and was the home of the New York City Opera since 1964.  I am hoping that this portends something good.  He can't have been happy that, after his multi-million dollar renovation, the New York City Opera moved out. I think the future of the company is dependent on moving back into Lincoln Center. Could David Koch be considering a bailout of the company and a move back into "his" theater? I certainly hope so. As much as I dislike the Koch brothers' political activism, (their unprecedented donations to keep President Obama out of office), they are true philanthropists, and we need someone like David Koch to come forward to save the New York City Opera.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Google Translate

Google Translate is an amazing service, but it has it's limitations.
One of the major limitations is it's lack of ability to translate into the informal form of address.
Everything in Google translate gets translated into the formal form.  That's a problem if you're talking to someone who you've known for a while, or someone who you don't know very well but is of your own age group.  In French, German, Spanish, Italian and most other languages there are formal and informal forms of address.  I have been writing emails in French as of late, and most of the people I'm writing to are people that I already know well enough to address in the informal form.   What to do?

I read a blog on the Google Translate help site that stated that if you put in "(informal)" in parentheses  after the personal pronoun, that the program would translate into the informal formal dress.   This is absolutely not the case. Google Translate merely translates the parenthetical word into "informel", in the case of French.

And then I started thinking: didn't we actually have an informal form of address in English? Yes we did!  Old English uses "Thee" and "Thou" as the informal form of "you".  I learned that rather late in life. I always thought that when we addressed God as "Thou"  and "Thee", we were addressing Him with respect and deference to His greatness.  In reality we were speaking God in the informal form; just like an old bar buddy!  ( I really like that...). The language of Shakespeare has a similar connotation for English speakers. How often do Americans, when trying to sound very formal, feign an English accent, and use expressions like  "thou art" and "thou hast" and "wouldst thou"?

The trick with Google Translate is to use "thou" and "thee" for personal pronouns.  This is something that Google translate understands, strangely enough.  Just be sure you don't also use words like "art" or "hast", "wouldst", etc. 
If you go that far, Google Translate does some pretty strange things!


Friday, May 17, 2013

I forgot I had a blog!

Oh dear.  That's a terrible sign! If the blogger forgets to blog, no one can be blamed for forgetting he has a blog...

I am currently in a mental No Man's Land.  Due to severe allergies, I had to withdraw from the beautiful Show Boat production in Washington, D.C. I was very, very sad to go, but there was really no other choice.  I just couldn't do my best work.  On the positive side: I got to go home and spend quality time with my family.  In fact, my wonderful wife Tina threw a Cinco de Mayo party for me the night I returned!  That was very cool.  (And her Margaritas are awesome and that is not a euphemism for something else.) Plus, I was able to be at USC for Juries, and Honors Convocation, and Commencement!  And I have been able to meet with most of my students for lessons.  But at the same time, I know the performances in DC are going on without me.  So I have a strange mixture of feelings: I feel like I'm supposed to be somewhere else,  I feel like the hunter coming home with no food for his family, I actually feel guilty for leaving the production (an emotion that our Board Certified Behavior Analyst daughter Erica says is a completely useless), I have a deep sense of loss because I value performing so highly (and money rather highly),  I'm happy to be home, and grateful to have time with my students, and I'm preparing for my next project - Don Giovanni in Aix-en-Provence.  I'm hoping it will feel like I've moved on when I start rehearsals in Aix.  

I am, meanwhile, so proud of my students.  Five of them received advanced degrees today. Robin Wyatt-Stone, BM in Vocal Performance; David Castillo, MM in Vocal Performance; Melissa Kaplan MA in Communications; Samantha de Leve, MA in Communications; and Ana Guigui, DMA in Vocal Arts. Attending Commencement today reminded me of the importance of these degrees and just how much work they represent.  I feel a huge responsibility as their teacher to make sure they are prepared for their life path after they leave the security of USC, and that they represent USC well as they go out into the greater world. I also remember with great fondness the day our son, Marc, graduated from USC with a BS in Music Industry, and I got to hand him his diploma and shake his hand! That was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.