Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Singing — ‘The Perfect Antidote’ to a Life in Law
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
(Sixth in an occasional series on lawyers and judges engaged in musical pursuits.)
Normally when anyone in a courtroom was known for singing like a bird, he was acting as an informant as part of a plea deal. However, these members of the legal community are willing to sing without any threat of criminal prosecution hanging over them, just for the joy of singing.
Justice Steven Z. Perren of this district’s Court of Appeal, Div. Six says that singing “has been a pleasant component of my life, and a different creative force to doing opinions and judging,” while Justice Nora Manella of Div. Four says she hopes every jurist has “sort of a bigger palate to draw from by virtue of having outside interests,” because “having a wider interest in the world can only contribute to the breadth of your experience as a judge.”
West Los Angeles attorney G. Randall Garrou of Weston, Garrou & DeWitt calls singing “the perfect antidote to law.”
‘All Things Are Possible’
Perren opines that “music has the capacity to change you when you’re singing… you become someone you could never be, do things you could never do…all things are possible on stage.”
Like his father before him, Perren says, he sang virtually his entire life, mainly in synagogue choirs, and without any formal training.
After he was asked to sing a duet from the “Phantom of the Opera” at a benefit for the Boys and Girls Club of Ventura in 1995, he says he fell in love with musical theatre and decided to audition for a role in the Cabrillo Music Theatre’s production of “Guys and Dolls.”
But he says he was horrified to learn that the role required him to dance.
“I have no knack for dancing,” he claims, and “I was a coward on top of that,” so he says he was very reluctant to try. However, he “hung on for dear life during a two minute dance routine,” survived, and was cast in the play.
He also began receiving formal training from a neighbor, Linda Ottsen, a former professional opera singer.
Ottsen says Perren is a “wonderful” singer, with a voice that lends itself to many roles. She says she would have pushed him to be a professional singer, had he not already had his day job.
“He works very hard,” she says, but he’s still “serious about his music.”
Ottsen beamed as her pupil performed “Largo al Factotum Della Citta” from “The Barber of Seville “ during a lesson on a recent Friday afternoon.
The song has soaring “Figaros” which are an icon in popular culture of operatic singing. Even though it is one of the most difficult baritone arias to perform, Perren made it look easy.
Even when he is not singing, Perren is an animated conversationalist, but he seemed to come even more alive, positively glowing, as his deep, booming voice filled the church sanctuary.
Perren says his “passion” is Gilbert & Sullivan’s comedic operas, and he has appeared in four so far. Most recently he played the role of Colonel Calverly in the Ventura County Gilbert & Sullivan Repretoire Company’s production of “Patience,” a satire ridiculing 19th century British poets.
“It rips poets up pretty good,” he says. “It’s political satire of the highest order…and leaves very few bodies uncovered.”
He also played the role of Avram the bookseller in a six-week professional production of “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Rubicon Theater this spring. He auditioned Saturday for a role in another Gilbert and Sullivan work, “Yeoman of the Guard.”
Manella once took pity on a homeless vagabond, beseeching the court upon which she sat at the time to be swayed by the war veteran’s tragic story.
“A tale so strong and full of woe, might melt the rocks as well as you,” she said. “What stubborn heart unmov’d could see, such distress, such piety?”
Manella made this lyric appeal during the opening act of Wellesley College’s 1972 production of Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” before the Carthaginian royal court as the character Belinda, counseling her sister, Queen Dido, to accept the Trojan hero Aeneas’ marriage proposal.
In the 35 years since her performance in the tragic opera, Manella says it has been hard to keep up with her vocal training, but it “certainly continues to be fun.” Although she is currently taking voice lessons, she says “the jury’s still out on how much progress I’ve made.”
The diminutive justice has a gentle, melodic voice and a high tinkling laugh which chimes softly as she self-disparagingly claims her singing career has “gone pretty much downhill from college.”
Nonetheless, for her the pleasure in pursuing music is “not the anticipation of being very good,” she says “it’s the aspiration.” Singing is “something I find pleasurable in practicing, in making an effort,” she explains.
For the most part, Manella says she does most of her singing now in bars. “I’ll sing where my blood alcohol content is above the legal limit,” she declares laughingly, “and the audience’s is at least double that.”
Manella also writes parody lyrics, and occasionally performs them at court functions. She keeps them in the file cabinet in her chambers. Her first work, while she was working as an attorney at O’Melveny and Meyers was “If I Sued You,” to the tune of “If I Loved You” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel.”
“I Could Have Danced All Night” from the musical “My Fair Lady” became “I Could Have Dozed All Day,” a tongue-in-cheek lament from the viewpoint of a bored judge at a hearing. Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” kept its name, but changed subjects to being about the state of the judiciary. “Maria” from the musical “West Side Story,” went from being a love song to being about the joy a court feels when a defendant has decided to plead guilty on the eve of a court trial.
Sitting at her desk a few weeks ago, she flipped through the folder’s contents and crooned: “The most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard, he’s pleading, he’s pleading.”
Because Weston, Garrou & DeWitt’s area of concentration is on the regulation of obscenity, Garrou, a member of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, laughingly says singing “balances being a porn lawyer” with his “choir boy side.”
He performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall with California Philharmonic Choir in August, and played the lead tenor in Casa Italia’s production of “La Traviata” in September.
He also says he can be found most Sunday nights performing at Cafe 322’s opera night in Sierra Madre.
Garrou started singing in third grade, performing “whatever popular song of the day to whatever girl in my class who wanted to listen,” he said with a smile as he waited for his “La Traviata” castmates to arrive for a rehearsal at his home.
After singing in various choirs over the years, Garrou joined the Master Chorale in 1994. But the soft-spoken attorney says his voice was “the puny little voice” in the choir, and decided to start taking voice lessons to bolster his abilities.
At his first voice lesson, he recalls his teacher played him a song by famed tenor Franco Corelli, and that he says, convinced him he wanted to become an operatic tenor as well.
“I never thought I’d learn one,” he admitted, pointing to the bookshelf in his “opera cabinet” which houses the scripts for each of the seven operas he has performed. The spines on some are over an inch thick. “It seemed impossible.”
But he said he has developed a system for learning the complex Italian works by transcribing the notes, rhythm, and lyrics as a series of symbols in a Word document on his computer. It takes him up to six hours per scene to do, and the end result resembles a cross between sheet music and hieroglyphics.
On closer inspection, the hieroglyphs are smiley face emoticons.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company