The following interview took place in the administrative offices of the Houston Grand Opera, whose facilitation of the interview is deeply appreciated:
[Below: Soprano Melody Moore; resized image of a publicity photograph.]
Wm: My custom is to ask each artist what their earliest memories of music were. What are yours?
MM: I was involved in church music and singing in front the congregation. I had no introduction to classical music until high school.
Wm: What was your introduction to classical music?
MM: My family moved from Memphis to Houston, where I auditioned for the Kingwood High School choir.
At my audition, the head of the choir asked me to stay after school and gave me music for the Texas All-State Choir. I became the second chair in choir.
Then I was asked to audition for a scholarship at Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge. That was my first time that I learned anything about opera.
Wm: How did you relate to opera?
MM: My love of opera started at the LSU library. I would “lock myself” in the library to watch operas.
Wm: But how did you become interested in vocal performance?
MM: As an undergraduate student in Baton Rouge, I began to study the art form, but did not understand how one could sing and make a career of it. I tried to figure out whether one could participate in the art form in a different capacity than singing.
LSU’s opera department had a link with a local opera company in Baton Rouge. I was a backstage manager, I did lighting cues and set up props. Then I sang Bianca in Benjamin Britten’s opera “The Rape of Lucretia” and wanted to do more.
I enrolled in Loyola University in New Orleans to finish my degree in music. At my audition, I was told that I must bcome a voice major. At Loyola, baritone Philip Frohnmayer became my teacher.
Unfortunately, at that point my father died suddenly and tragically, and I took four years off from college to assist my family.
Then I followed a partner to Kent Sate University, where I enrolled and took lessons from James Mismas.
Wm: It was at Kent State that you began to take opera singing seriously?
MM: Yes, there I sang Pamina in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”. I was bitten by the bug. I graduated summa cum laude at Kent State, then transferred to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, which was a good experience for me. From there, in the summer of 2005, I was accepted into the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program.
Wm: The Merola program is often a pathway to an important operatic career. What did you learn there?
MM: I agree with the Merola program’s reputation as an operatic “boot camp”. There, I got some acting chops. We had several people coming through teaching us as how to build a scene.
I was chosen for the role of the Countess in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”. I had never sung recitative.
I was attacked by coaches, conductors, directors and voice faculty, inundated with information on the rules for the style of how recitative should be done.
Wm: What are those rules of how Mozart’s recitative be sung?
MM: I had been following the pattern written on the page. Those rhythmic values should be observed, but only as a blueprint, because they do not not accurately measure the sounds of sung speech. You must sing like you’re talking to another person.
Wm: And then you became an Adler Fellow for the San Francisco Opera.
MM: Because I had done two leading roles in Merola, I was accepted into the Adler program. There, you watch the stars and learn from them. I got to cover Patricia Racette and Ruth Ann Swenson.
There wasn’t a day as an Adler Fellow that we weren’t involved in conversations with artists and voice teachers, and learning about operatic characters. I got to work directly with Carol Vaness as to how to play the Countess. That is why I attribute my career to the San Francisco Opera.
Wm: Where did you first perform after your completed your Adler Fellowship?
MM: My first commission was for Los Angeles Opera Music Director James Conlon’s “recovered voices” projects. I sang in Ullman’s “Broken Jug”. Ullman had been the first of the first of the young composers who perished in the Holocaust to be featured in the project. It was a fantastic experience to have participated in Conlon’s project.
Wm: The first time I reviewed you in a lead role was as Marguerite in Des McAnuff production of Gounod’s “Faust” at English National Opera. What is it like working with McAnuff?
MM: He’s fantastic. He has boundless industry. He never stops. He’s an explosive character. I loved working with him and with Kelly Devine. We had a blast. It’s a ball working with him and with Ian Patterson who played Mephistopheles.
McAnuff is a very busy man with “Jersey Boys” on Broadway and all his other projects.
[Below: Marguerite (Melody Moore, left) becomes enamored with Faust (Toby Spence, right) in Des McAnuff’s English National Opera production of Gounod’s “Faust”; edited image, of a Catherine Ashmore photograph, courtesy of the English National Opera.]
Wm: What are your thoughts on performing the opera in English, as English National Opera always does?
MM: I prefer singing Marguerite in French and learning a part in the original language first. I think it is a better way to inform oneself on how to perform the opera. At ENO, of course, operas have been funded into perpetuity to be sung in English. But I do think the French language suits the piece.
Amanda Holden, ENO’s dramaturg, who did the English translation, is a wonderful asset to ENO. She assured that from moment to moment everything happens seamlessly. I don’t think she slept for the entire period.
Wm: Then you created the role of Susan Rescorla in Theofanidis’ “Heart of a Soldier”. What is it like creating a role in a time that the person you are playing is still living?
MM: It was such a valuable experience to work with the real Susan Rescorla in creating that role.
[Below: Susan Rescorla (Melody Moore, left) with her husband Rick Rescorla (Thomas Hampson, right) in Francesca Zambello’s San Francisco Opera production of Theofanidis’ “Heart of a Soldier”; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
I consider the real Susan Rescorla to be a close friend. If she can get to somewhere I’m singing, such as Glimmerglass for Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman”, she will come to see me.
Wm: “Heart of a Soldier” is the project that introduced you to Conductor Patrick Summers and to Director Francesca Zambello. You later worked with Francesca as Senta in her new production of Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman” at the Glimmerglass Festival.
MM: Yes. I remember that she said she wanted to do Senta at Glimmerglass New York, and I asked, who is Senta?
[Below: the women (Glimmerglass Festival chorus) attempt to restrain the obsessed Senta (Melody Moore, center from, in blue dress; edited image, based on a photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Francesca is a dear person to me. I believe that she has so much to say, and so much heart.
Francesca gets the best out of her performers. I would love to work on her every project. If I could I do every show with her I would.
Wm: I was one of the reviewers for the first night of the 2o12 San Francisco Opera production of Puccini’s “Tosca”, where Angela Gheorghiu withdrew after the first act, and you took over her role for the second and third acts. During that long intermission in which you got into your makeup and costume, I had a conversation with the “Tosca” stage director Jose Maria Condemi, who was really excited that you would be singing the role in the War Memorial Opera House.
MM; Jose Maria was so overjoyed and excited for me. He said “Go do it, girl!”
I had so much adrenalin that I don’t think I could do something like that more than one time. But Jose Maria said he wasn’t worried at all.
[Below: Tosca (Melody Moore, left) has just killed the Baron Scarpia (Roberto Frontali, right, on floor); edited image, based on a Kristen Loken photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Wm: Your work with Conductor Patrick Summers in “Heart of a Soldier” has been followed by several assignments at Houston Grand Opera, where Summers is Music Director. That includes the title role in Weinberg’s “The Passenger”
MM: “The Passenger” was an important career assignment for me. I will also sing Freia in the Houston Grand Opera’s mounting of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” and Ortlinde in his “Die Walkuere”.
[Below: the concentration camp prisoner Marta (Melody Moore, left) has established communication with her lover Tadeusz (Morgan Smith, right); edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]
Wm: You’re singing Dorabella in Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte” in Houston. You sing the Countess in “Marriage of Figaro”, and most artists that sing that role would be cast as Fiordiligi rather than Dorabella with its lower range? Did it surprise you to be asked to sing that role?
MM: It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve sung it before and it’s “technically” a soprano role. I think there is no better Fiordiligi on the planet than Rachel Willis-Sorensen. I’m honored to sing alongside her.
[Below: Dorabella (Melody Moore, left) surprises Fiordiligi (Rachel Willis-Sorensen, right) with the information that she has decided she wants to be courted by her Albanian suitor; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]
Wm: You will be singing Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth at the 2015 Glimmerglass Festival. What do you think of that role?
MM: I am so honored to get a chance to portray this mad woman full of conflict and nightmares. I will get to work with Anne Bogart, which is more exciting to me than any other part of the project.
Wm: What’s on your wish list for future roles?
MM: I will be singing Senta again at the Hawai’i Opera Theater. I hope someday to sing the Marschallin in Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavlier”, Ellen Orford in Britten’s “Peter Grimes” and am interested in several Janacek roles.
Wm: Thank you for your time. I appreciate it.
MM: Thank you.