• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with soprano Melody Moore

    [Opera Lively interview # 107] On the occasion of the current Glimmerglass Festival production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, we interviewed the soprano who is singing Senta, Melody Moore. She had very interesting insights to share with us about her character, and we addressed as well some other operas she has done, and various aspects of her life and career.

    Credit Roger Steen

    The show continues its run and still has performances left. Later today, August 16, it is sold out, but tickets are still available for August 20 and August 24, and can be found by clicking [here]. Opera Lively has sent an envoy to the show, and it is terrific, not to be missed! Our review will be published soon, and a link will be included here once it is in.

    It is interesting to notice that all our principal singers are Opera Lively interviewees: in addition to Ms. Moore as Senta, Ryan McKinny is the Dutchman (his interview has been recorded and is under transcription), Peter Volpe is Daland, and Jay Hunter Morris is Erik (read their interviews [here] and [here], not to forget that Opera Lively Press has published Jay's hilarious memoirs on paperback - get it [here].

    Melody's next engagement after she finishes this run, will be at Madison Opera for the title role of Tosca, on November 1st and 3rd, 2013. Tickets go on sale September 4 and can be found by clicking [here].


    Artistic Biography

    American soprano, Melody Moore, to great critical success, recently sang her first Tosca at San Francisco Opera while filling in for Angela Gheorghiu on opening night and again later in the show’s run. No stranger to the San Francisco Opera stage, Melody had the honor of portraying Susan Rescorla in the World Premiere there of Christopher Theofanidis’ Heart of a Soldier, which opened on the eve of the ten year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. After having successfully debuted as Rita Clayton in Stephen Schwartz’s, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, Melody returned to New York City Opera in early 2012 to sing the leading role of Régine Saint Laurent in the American debut of Rufus Wainwright’s new opera, Prima Donna. Melody recently sang the role of Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni at Atlanta Opera before returning to San Francisco Opera as First Lady in The Magic Flute. In early 2013 Melody made her Houston Grand Opera debut as Julie LaVerne in their new production of Showboat. In the Spring of 2013 Melody was seen on the Opera Colorado stage as Elvira in Don Giovanni followed directly by singing in Rufus Wainwright's "Prima! Rufus! Judy!" concert at the Philadelphia International Arts Festival. Melody began the summer of 2013 with her debut at Opéra National de Bordeaux as Pamina in The Magic Flute. She is currently performing at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival singing the role of Senta in The Flying Dutchman.

    Credit Roger Steen

    Recent critically acclaimed performances include two appearances with English National Opera as Mimi in Jonathan Miller’s production of La Bohème and as Marguerite in Des McAnuff’s production of Faust. Melody has also performed the role of Mimi with San Francisco Opera and Opera Cleveland. She has appeared with Los Angeles Opera as Contessa Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro and in their Recovered Voices Project, highlighting recovered works by composers affected by the Holocaust, in the productions of Der Zwerg and Der Zerbrochene Krug. Melody has also performed the role of La Contessa in Le Nozze di Figaro productions at San Francisco Opera and Madison Opera. Elsewhere, she has appeared with the New Orleans Opera as Manon Lescaut, Orlando Opera in the title role in Suor Angelica, and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra production of Don Giovanni as Donna Anna. She has appeared regularly with the San Francisco based New Century Chamber Orchestra headed by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and has recently sung Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. This year, Melody debuted in Munich with the Bavarian Radio Symphony in a concert performance of Gordon Getty’s opera, Plump Jack, conducted by Ulf Schirmer.

    Credit Roger Steen

    Melody, a graduate of the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, is a 2007 San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow and former Merola Opera Program participant.

    Artist's website: http://www.melodymooresoprano.com/


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Melody Moore

    © Opera Lively - Disclaimer: this exclusive interview is copyrighted by Opera Lively with all rights reserved, and is not to be reproduced without express authorization. Brief excerpts can be used after consultation (use the Contact Us form) as long as proper credit and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization.

    Credits - Questions by Luiz Gazzola; Photos from the artist's web site, used with permission, head shots credited to Roger Steen, Giimmerglass production pictures used with authorization and credited under the pictures.


    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively – Let’s start by talking about Senta, the character. The idealistic young woman in love is a recurrent character in the history of opera. What makes Senta special for you, and how do you read her psychology?

    Melody Moore - There are a lot of young girls in opera who fantasize, but Senta is non-typical because her obsession and her fantasy that this Dutchman will in fact end up at her port, fall in love with her and make her his bride, actually comes true. And it isn't that farfetched when you think about this story - she's been told her whole life about this Dutchman; she has set herself up to be ready for him when he arrives. She had an idea and she saw it through all the way, to the end.

    Psychologically, she is obsessed, she is possessed, she is not living in the form of the reality of her town and engaging with her surroundings. What makes her different is that she has never been one of the girls that sits spinning, waiting for the men to come home from the sea. She has never dated a man who is also a seafarer. She is dating the town hunter. So she is an outsider looking for another outsider, and she finds one.

    OL – Very nice! She spends a short time with the real Dutchman although she has been dreaming of his picture, and this is enough for her to jump to her death in order to rescue him. Sure, as a romantic character, that’s what is expected of her, but do you read anything deeper in her rescue/suicide?

    Melody as Senta, Glimmerglass, photo credit Jamie Kraus

    MM - I do. I think she is lonely. They find each other and they are a good match. She doesn't just dream of his picture, but rather of him as a person. She understands who he is - a person who wanders looking for something that he cannot find. She has connected with him on the psychological level because she is doing the same - alone, perpetually different, looking outside of her surroundings, and looking for her match.

    OL – Musically, what are some of the vocal challenges involved in singing this role? The duet with The Dutchman is quite difficult, isn’t it, maybe more than your opening ballad?

    MM - Yes, the most difficult musical part is the duet. The challenge in that is just to stay anchored and actually sing with beauty. When you got someone singing really loudly into your ear [laughs] and right in front of you there is a huge section of blaring horns, it's hard not to want to scream. But the harder we push our voice, actually the less sound comes out. There is a perfect pressurization that causes the voice to ring at its maximum resonance. If you push past that or if you under-sing you decrease your resonance. So the trick is to stay anchored in your technique during that time.

    The ballad is easier because you can hear yourself, it's lyric, it's beautiful, the melody is sweeping, the orchestra is not overpowering, no one is singing with you. So you can kind of monitor it as you go along, and change a little thing here and there, color some phrases differently, and have a little fun with it. With the duet, you just have to sing, I mean, loud. [laughs]

    OL – Interesting! What is the concept behind this staging of The Flying Dutchman by Francesca Zambello?

    MM - Conceptually we are sort of always on a ship. Of course the Dutchman has his own ship; it is a ghost ship that hardly touches the water if it does at all, and it comes to different ports every seven years for him to try to find a wife that will be faithful to him. During this production we keep everything on the boat, because the entire opera happens in a seafaring village. So, everyone, all of the chorus, my father, the Dutchman, myself, and Erik are all sort on a boat. All the action takes place on there, so anything that comes on and off of the stage has to be dragged on or off. Otherwise it's ropes and plain wood, basically.

    Melody with Jay Hunter Morris - Glimmerglass - Photo credit Karli Cadel

    I enjoy the concept. It's stark, so that all the action that takes place on the stage is more important than any visual. The lighting is beautiful. They have a cold, bluish lighting for some of the storm activity, and it can even be sort of frightening.

    OL – Working with such an accomplish director as Ms. Zambello must be thrilling. What kind of advice did she give you – maybe acting coaching, or something like that?

    MM - No, she is so brilliant because she is an actor's director. She allows you to play, and if something visually is not working or not reading to the audience, she will tell you, but she doesn't necessarily give you a lot of advice, because unless we inhabit the character as the actors, the character is nothing real. Nothing that a director can say or do to you or for you is going to make that character real. You must find it for yourself. So what I enjoy about Francesca is that she sits, thinks, and watches as the audience. She puts herself in the position of the everyman, and tries to determine what is working, what isn't, and most of the time she is correct. That's what makes her brilliant. She can see through the eyes of other people. She doesn't look through her own eyes as an accomplished and educated watcher - she looks through the eyes of someone who may be seeing Wagner for the first time. She is very detail-oriented but she doesn't necessarily get in the way of the actor's process.

    OL – Do you feel that she also matches her visual concept to the musical and textual cues that we get from Wagner?

    MM - Yes. Many, many times Francesca will point out words that are very important. Wagner does tend to use high German language; language that has concept. There is a word - Treue - which means truth, that comes up often in this opera. Now, being that the Dutchman is looking for a faithful wife, one would think that Treue means truthful and faithful. But it also has a deeper meaning - it's the deeper truth of fidelity, honesty, dignity - the deeper truth, period. Often Francesca will point out to us - "hey, this word has popped up here again; think about that; ruminate on that, see what comes out of that!" When she just alerts us to the musical cues often times another layer will be added, because we will notice something that we hadn't noticed before.

    OL – How has been for you the experience of singing with your colleagues Ryan McKinny as The Dutchman, Jay Hunter Morris as Erik, and Peter Volpe as Daland?

    MM - All three of them are accomplished professionals, however they love to have fun. What I have loved about working with each one of them is their ability to play. I can't think of any scene in this opera that we haven't tried three different ways, in rehearsal or live. Because they trust me and I trust them, we are able to do this. I can't say that I feel that comfortable trying new approaches or new responses with everyone. I trust Jay, he is constantly thinking. Ryan is so clear with everything that he does; every motion, every eye that is cast towards me is clearly read.

    Ryan and Melody - Glimmerglass - photo credit Karli Cadel

    OL – Good. How special is singing this, during Wagner’s bicentennial year? How do you relate to Wagner’s music?

    MM - It is special to me to be singing my first Wagner role in the bicentennial, but more than that, it's important to me to be doing my first Wagner at all. Of course we all know that Wagner was a beautiful music writer but had some troubled politics. [laughs] It is difficult to separate the artist from his beliefs and his politics. At the same time, when I was a younger singer I used to dream of any chance that I would ever get to sing his music, especially his Wesendonk Lieder song cycle and Rheingold. I hear stunning epic God-like beauty in his writing. It's almost perfect. I know that a lot of people speak about Mozart being perfect as well, and I do hear the clarity and the mathematical precision of Mozart, but what I hear in Wagner is beginning romanticism playing with tonality, using accidentals, using sharps and flats in different ways to color a chord, complicating the music in a beautiful way that is very human. I love his writing. I hope to continue to be doing his music. He was very special.

    OL – Yes. This festival run is a long one, with twelve performances. Does it get easier as it goes, or harder?

    MM - It's a very difficult role to sing and it never stops being so, but you get used to it. Maybe a marathon runner could understand what I mean when I say it. Running a marathon is never going to be easy, is it? But it is going to get more comfortable, the more you do it. In other words, maybe you are just more used to the pain. [laughs] I have become accustomed to the show, therefore it may seem a little easier as it goes on, but it is never easy.

    OL – Is there any vocal fatigue that settles in with so many performances? You do sing with several days interval, right?

    MM - Yes, most of the time we have two or three-day intervals. Twice this season there is a show, then one day off, then a matinee. One has already happened, and I'm glad that that is out of the way. I wouldn't necessarily want to sing this twice in a row. It's very strenuous. There are either eight or nine high B flats or high B naturals within about thirty pages of music. So… [blows a raspberry]… yes! [laughs]

    OL - Are you enjoying your time in beautiful upstate New York?

    MM - I am so pleasantly surprised by how beautiful upstate New York is! Anytime that I get one of those long five-day intervals I try and go see something different that I wouldn't normally see - I live on the West Coast, I don't get up here much if it's not Manhattan, so when I got here I had never seen the Adirondacks, or the Catskills, or Lake George. I go adventuring, so I've been to Mirror Lake, and Lake Placid. I stayed quite a bit of time there at the Catskills. I'm about to go to Lake George after tomorrow's performance. I've hiked and kayaked and swam, everything. [laughs] I went to Saratoga. So yes, I have enjoyed it, it is stunningly beautiful.

    OL - Although I haven't seen it, I'm interested in Heart of a Soldier - on Opera Lively we like to focus on new American opera. You created the role of Susan Rescorla in the opera's world premiere, which must have been very exciting. Please tell us about this experience.

    MM - The opera itself was such an exciting experience! We were work-shopping it months before we actually put it on, to make sure that everything was settled. We were all on the same page with the music, with the drama, and with what we wanted to do on stage. It was like a preview experience on Broadway, where you show parts of it to the public via press conference or via workshop, and see what reaction you get.

    It was incredibly exciting to play Susan. I got to meet her; she is actually coming to the show on the 12th here. We have remained in close contact. It was an incredible honor, to tell her story and her husband's. He was a national hero who got over two thousand people out of the South Tower before the collapse, and then ended up dying himself. Every day that I open my mouth, I thank the universe for giving me this opportunity. She is a beautiful woman.

    Melody in Heart of a Soldier, photo credit unknown, fair promotional use

    OL –Did the fact of meeting her in person affect your preparation to portray her on stage? Did you do any sort of role study?

    MM - Yes, I read the book, of course, and the sections about her. Then when I met her we had several lunches. I didn't want to use them opportunistically. I wanted to, more than meet her, just listen to her, because humanly, we do our best work when we listen to another person, without necessarily trying to enforce any kind of change. So, instead of looking at it as a homework assignment, I just wanted to hear her story, and we ended up enjoying each other's company. I left the door open to observe her, but didn't treat it as an experiment. I tried to just be open, and as a result, I have a friendship with her now, so I'm happy that I treated it that way. We did spend a lot of time together.

    Melody's personal picture, with the real Susan Rescorla

    OL – Fabulous! Please tell us about the Recovered Voices Project at LA Opera, where you sang in Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg (The Dwarf) and in Ullmann’s Der Zerbrochene Krug (The Broken Jug).

    MM - Yes, it is James Colon's idea of putting on stage survivors of the Holocaust who were also composers at the time, and who may have been lost in the shuffle of important compositional voices. It was a brilliant idea, especially the Zemlisnky, which was beautifully directed by Darko Tresnjak to mimic the 1656 painting by Velázquez - Las Meninas - which inspired Oscar Wilde's short story The Birthday of the Infanta. It was a dark piece. I enjoyed The Broken Jug as well. It was taken from folklore about a woman who is taken advantage of and is trying to speak her piece. It's about her dignity. But I really enjoyed The Dwarf. We had an incredible cast, it was a longer piece that one could sink one's teeth in, both as a singer, and as an audience member. It had more of a story line. I would love to continue to be a part of any Recovered Voices series, as I think it is important to recover the voices of these composers.

    OL - Showboat in Houston must have been a lot of fun. What are your thoughts regarding singing musical theater as compared to opera?

    MM - One needs to be careful when one is crossing over from musical theater to opera and vice-versa because they are two different types of singing. However Showboat has an operatic style and was written in a period when operatic singers were singing these roles on stage, and were not necessarily miked, since they could project in vaudeville theaters. "Can't Help Loving Dat Man" sits in the middle of the voice and you can definitely sing it with projection, and "Bill" absolutely sits widely on the sweet spot, to sing it operatically but with style. I could still use my singing technique and not have to belt and change the entire way that I sing, and be able to still portray Julie La Verne quite well.

    It was one of the most fun shows I've ever done, and I would love to do it again. I loved playing Julie. I was raised in Memphis so I understood her, the story, the theme of racism. I understand very deeply the family unit of the story; I had to observe that in my youth.

    OL - Please tell us about the experience of having been called to replace Angela Gheorghiu during a Tosca performance at San Francisco Opera, when you stepped in for acts 2 and 3 as your role debut - that must have been something!

    MM - Yes, it was the most exciting day of my entire life! [laughs] I will never forget it, and I probably didn't sleep for a week afterwards. I did not expect to go on. There was no forewarning whatsoever. Ms. Gheorghiu had been fine. All through the rehearsal process there was no problem. I was sitting in this conference room where we can watch the stage on a closed-circuit television, and be prepared, but the covers sit up there, eat a Subway sandwich and work on music; we are not very worried, because most of the time we are not needed.

    But this particular day on the opening night of Tosca I did sense that there was a problem. Ms. Gheorghiu did not look well and she was shaking quite a bit and seemed a bit weak. So I went and told my colleagues that I was going to warm up. I went downstairs and I heard my name called on the speaker system. They told me that there might be a problem and I needed to go into costume, and we waited almost all the way until the curtain was ready to come up, because I do believe that Angela wanted to continue on, but just wasn't able to. She was very ill with the stomach flu, and had to taken to the hospital in an ambulance. So, the curtain was about to go up and I had about the time that it took them to get me into costume, make-up and hair, to warm up further and prepare myself to go on.

    Everything in me was the most alive that it has ever been. I had never worked on that set yet. We had only one cover rehearsal in a ballet studio. When I stepped in onto the stage it was for the first time and I had not ever sung the piece with an orchestra at all. No pressure [laughs] but just stand up there and sing Tosca. [laughs] So I decided "you need to get out of your own way" so I just tried to inhabit the character the best I could, and there were moments when I was so far into the character that I believe I was thinking as Tosca, not as Melody. It was invigorating and exhilarating and the best night of my life, musically.

    OL - You're doing Tosca again in Madison, next. Any thoughts on how that production will be?

    MM - I haven't been home in almost six months. Since I know the role very well and it hasn't been very long since I've done it, I didn't really delve into whose production it is or what it is. I do know the director quite well - A. Scott Perry is his name, and he directed me in The Marriage of Figaro in Madison. He is a very well read genius who takes a delving approach to character; I have no doubt that we are going to do some good work together and it is going to be fantastic.

    OL - You did Don Giovanni for Opera Colorado. Is it specially challenging for a singer to take on the high altitude and dryness of Denver?

    MM - Yes, it was the first time I sang in altitude like that. I've done competitions in altitude, but that's just showing up the day before and drinking some water, sleeping, singing in the competition and leaving. This was different, because I was there for over a month. I never drank so much water in my life. The company gave us all humidifiers to put inside of our rooms, and I had the humidifier running almost 24 hours a day, and even so the humidity would be 27%. A dangerous level for human survival is 20% so that will give you an idea of how dry it was. And the altitude of course changes the pressure in your body, so there were times when I was singing like a god, and then there were times when I couldn't get my breath. It took a couple of weeks to get used to it, but it was an awesome production.

    OL - Critics have said that your voice has spinto power but that you are also able to portray vulnerability in your characters quite well. Please tell us about your Fach, and about what you try to accomplish with your acting.

    MM - I believe I am Fachless [laughs] because I've sung so many different roles… To give you a small example, I went from Tosca to Donna Elvira to Pamina in Bordeaux, and then to Senta. Now some of these vocally lie on the same range. A lot of good soprano repertoire will go rather down into the middle and low voice area at some point in the opera. It is not that the range is all that different. It's the quality of the character that is different. Pamina is so different than Donna Elvira which is so, so different than Senta. I sing them all with the same technique, but it's the acting and the immersion into the character that is different, so what I have relied upon in this last year is my sentiment about the character which provides the energy behind how I sing. But as far as a Fach, honey, your guess is as good as mine. I sing everything from Mozart to Wagner. [laughs]

    OL - This does sound like a spinto, them, because you can go to the more dramatic territory, and you can go to the more lyric as well.

    MM - Yes, it sounds like I'm some sort of spinto soprano; I'm not quite sure. A dramatic soprano can often sing mezzo and so can I; I have a very low voice, but I also have the ability to project very high, with power. I will sing everything the best I can, until something shows me that I cannot sing it. So far that has not happened.

    OL - Good. I'm sure you've been asked this before, but your first name Melody is a nice one to have for a classical singer. It was destiny, huh?

    MM - Yes. [laughs]

    OL - So, how did classical music come into your life, growing up?

    MM -I had no idea what classical music was. I was born and raised near Memphis in a very, very small town called Dyersburg, TN. The population at the time was 8,000; nobody lived there. I went to an Evangelical church. We sang whatever hymns were popular at the time. I took a little bit of piano, my mom taught me some. I had a little bit of exposure to the early, early piano repertoire of the classical style such as Für Elise but there was no recorded classical music in our home.

    When we moved to Texas, I had to go to a public school, and I signed up for the choir because I had always sung in church and I figured that it was about the same thing. I was shocked because it wasn't. The Texas State Choir is very big, well funded, very popular, and very difficult and competitive. Throughout the state of Texas they pick three hundred singers, all from different vocal ranges, and then they go to San Antonio and sing for huge audiences. I ended up auditioning for that choir and I made fifth, then second chair in the alto section. So it was clear that I had some talent, and that's how I ended up auditioning for Louisiana State University, and getting in on a full scholarship, and continuing on in my studies to Loyola in New Orleans on vocal scholarship, and finally ending up at Kent State University for my undergraduate, and Cincinnati Conservatory of Music for my graduate degrees.

    But it was really through the kindness, encouragement, and musical knowledge of professors surrounding me that I am here. I did not even know what talent was, and I didn't know opera at all. I had no idea who the main opera composers were. So, I went to the library every night and checked out and watched an opera per night for the first few months and continued checking out operas over the next two years. I was there to try to catch up with what other people already knew. Thank God for the people who told me I had talent, because I didn't know.

    OL - Huh, huh, interesting. So, what are some of your extra-musical interests?

    MM - I cook all the time. [laughs] I love to cook, I'm sort of a wine enthusiast and snob. Well, I live near Napa, so I can't help that.

    OL - I envy you. It's my second interest after opera.

    MM - Yes. Living in San Francisco with all the food movement, we are so lucky. Between San Francisco and Manhattan, the best of the best comes out; you can try all kinds of new things and a new restaurant pops up every week, and I enjoy cooking for myself. I love to be outside. I love anything that has to do with nature - walking, biking, hiking, swimming. I'd say, I would probably be cooking right now, had those professors of mine not told me that I was a singer. I'm pretty sure I would have a restaurant at this point.

    OL - Have you done the Finger Lakes wine trail?

    MM - I still haven't done the Finger Lakes wine trail. This last year I've been traveling so much, I just haven't had a moment to just wind down and enjoy something. When I have had a few days off, I've just decided to hike, instead. Maybe one day.

    OL - Yes, I've done it, it is quite good, actually, not so much for the red wines, but there are some white wines that are quite compelling.

    MM - Hm…

    OL - How are you as a person?

    MM - I like my time to myself. I like to read avidly; that's the other extra-curricular activity I love as well. Because our career is so outward, and what we do is so extroverted, and after a performance we do also have to be social and greet and meet people and talk to them about our process, when I have time off I enjoy being quiet. I love to research - I'm pretty in love with Physics, and the different ideas that are coming up in string theory, dark matter, and multiverses. I guess personality-wise I would describe myself as quiet and introverted, oddly.

    OL - Interesting, and then you chose the career of a performer; that must be complementary, in a sense, right?

    MM - Yes, I think I picked it because I wanted to say so much that you cannot necessarily say or experience in everyday common life. In opera you can talk about these concepts that we need to delve into, and we are so lucky to be able to play these parts and experience these things in front of an audience. When I want to speak, I want to speak loudly. But I often don't want to. [laughs]

    OL - Well, that was about all I had, unless you care for saying something that I didn't ask about.

    MM - I just ask you to encourage anybody within reading earshot to come and see this piece, because it is a stunning piece of music and of theater. Francesca has done such a great job of making it accessible and understandable for anyone! If it's your first or fifth experience with Wagner, it doesn't matter; it's accessible. I hope audiences will come and continue to see us through August.

    OL - Thank you for a lovely interview.


    Let's listen to the singer in the ENO's La Bohème:

    San Francisco Opera appearances:


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