BWW Interviews: Melody Moore Talks THE PASSENGER and Career
Houston Grand Opera is proudly presenting the US Premiere of Mieczyslaw Weinberg and Alexander Medvedv's 1968 opera THE PASSENGER. After the Second World War, a German couple, Lisa and Walter, are sailing to Brazil. Lisa, unbeknownst to her husband, was a camp guard at Auschwitz and feels she recognizes a former Polish inmate, Marta. In anticipation of opening night, Melody Moore, who plays Marta, spoke with me about Houston Grand Opera's production of THE PASSENGER and her career.
BWW: How did you first get involved with opera?
Melody Moore: Initially, I was sort of a reluctant opera student. I went to LSU (Louisiana State University) for college, and I got into that because I got a scholarship out of high school. I still didn't quite know what opera was. I was raised in Memphis and then also here in Houston; the only exposure I had to anything classical was through Kingwood High School and their choral program.
At LSU, I still didn't know if I wanted to be a singer, and I tried to be about 20 other things. Then, I ended up, finally, at Loyola University in New Orleans with Phil and Ellen Frohnmayer, a married couple who taught there. Phil has since passed. I applied as a music therapy student, and they basically said, "Uh, no. You're going to sing. You're going to be in the opera program, right now." So, I ended up going into that.
I did take some time off; we had a tragedy in our family, and I took four years off of school altogether. When I returned, I had followed a partner to Kent, Ohio. I went to Kent State, finished my Bachelor's there, transferred with scholarship to Cincinnati Conservatory, where I finished my Master's, and that's when I found the Merola Opera Program of San Francisco Opera. I did my training there for the summer and returned as an Adler Fellow in the Adler Fellowship for two years, training under the stars on the stage of the time. That's pretty much the whole story really condensed.
BWW: When did you know you wanted to sing professionally?
Melody Moore: I always enjoyed singing. I loved what I felt like was a gift, you know. I like to give feelings out and hope that other people who are listening to whatever I am singing, whether that be a church song, or an art song, or opera. So, I think that I finally really, really decided to do it while I was at CCM, the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. I had a few coaching classes, and we did a piece called "Embroidery Aria" from Benjamin Britten's opera PETER GRIMES. I was encouraged by a coach there at the college to just step into the environment of the song, to literally, in my mind, create the atmosphere of where I think we would be. Before I ever started singing and before one note was played on the piano, (I was coached) to step into that environment and actually feel what it would be like to be in that environment. Something happened that day. I stepped into PETER GRIMES, and [Laughs] I don't think I ever stepped out. I just fell in love with the even deeper connection toward sharing a message and sharing a deeper resonance in the music. I was hooked at that point. I would say that was probably 2002 or 3.
Melody Moore: I really am honored to be here, and I'm glad that they gave me the opportunity to be the title character. I think they probably could have chosen a lot of people. I think what's so exciting about it is that it is incredibly emotionally driven. This is a piece about our history. We may not have been involved individually as we sit in the audience or as we sing it, but this is history that none of us can really afford to forget, lest it repeat itself.
There are a lot of operas out there that say really wonderful and beautiful things. I think there are messages throughout, and that they're all important in that way-that we share a whole life with the audience. But, this to me, this US Premiere particularly, is so very important because it reminds us, lest we forget, what we have been through, what we maybe did not know was occurring, and what we should never allow to be held in secret again.
The original story (a 1959 radio play entitled Passenger from Cabin 45) was written by Zofia Posmysz, who is a survivor of The Holocaust and Auschwitz. The composer, Mieczyslaw Weinberg, is also a survivor. I think we have a piece here that is pivotal because it is from the perspective of people who lived it. It's not from an objective perspective. No one is looking on into another situation and observing it. They were there. It is incredibly important that we tell this story.
BWW: What has been your favorite part or parts of preparing this opera for US audiences?
Melody Moore: I think my favorite part was realizing that I could not utilize any other learning techniques that I have learned before. [Laughs] There was a major challenge learning this piece. It is often in mixed meter. It is often changing tempos. We will go from a 4/4 bar, to a 5/4 bar, to a 2 bar, to a 3 several times within a page. One page!
BWW: Oh my God!
Melody Moore: Yeah! It's very percussive. A lot of times it is very atmospheric or ambient. It has a sort of very glassy quality to it at times, and it gets very quiet. It's hard to garner your pitch from any one instrument because it is a collaborative, environmental piece. He's setting a mood. He's setting a tone; therefore, there's not really a lot to grab on to. So, I think my favorite part of this has been just saying I did it. I finally just sat down at the piano and just said, "I'm just going to have to play this piece." I don't play the whole thing of course, but I play my entrances, and I've played against my own voice in order to really get my hands into the music.
Right now I'm learning Verdi's FALSTAFF, which is easy on the ear. It's easy to find the melody and the tonality. So, what you need to really immerse yourself in when you're usually learning something like that is "OK, what am I saying? What is the text setting? Where are we? Who am I talking to? What is my character about?" The music comes a little bit easier. This (THE PASSENGER) has been incredibly difficult to learn, and I'm still making mistakes. You know, we open the 18th [Laughs], and all of us are sort of biting our nails about how many mistakes we're still making. It's incredibly difficult! So, in that way, it has been very rewarding. If I can walk away on opening night and say, "I actually did that," I guess they can just about throw me anything, and, at this point, I feel like I have the confidence to say I could learn it. The writing has been the biggest challenge and the biggest reward, I think.