By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka
The highlight of San Francisco Ballet’s PROGRAM 3 was the second piece, “Nanna’s Lied”, choreographed by Helgi Tomasson. The Opening Night performance featured principal dancer Sarah van Patten, supported by Anthony Spaulding and Garen Scribner. The ballet incorporates songs by Kurt Weill with lyrics by two of his collaborators, Bertolt Brecht and Friedrich Hollaender. Acclaimed soprano Melody Moore was the solo voice throughout. Melody is familiar to audiences at SF Opera and from her two-term association with the Adler Fellows and as an alumna of the Merola Opera Program. Within the first few measures of her frothy opening waltz, “Le Roi d’Aquitaine”, we were swiftly transported back to the Berlin of the early 1930s and the provocative cabaret melodies that haunted its streets. Whatever may have been lacking in the ballet’s choreography and ponderous set designs by John Macfarlane to convey a clear sense of story and character development — along with the painful absence of supertitles to the all-German lyrics — was overridden by the enticing beauty and dramatic intensity of Melody Moore’s rich soprano as it filled the War Memorial Opera House with love and longing, mischief and despair. Moore is the ever-alluring heroine of composer Kurt Weill and the dream soprano of his original interpreter and companion, Lotte Lenya.
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NANNA’S LIED – Sarah Van Patten and Garen Scribner
Photo, Erik Tomasson
Come September 10th, the eve of the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, Melody Moore will be featured in the second production of San Francisco Opera’s 2011 Fall Season – the world premiere of HEART OF A SOLDIER. The opera, commissioned by General Director David Gockley and composed by Christopher Theofanidis, is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book by journalist James B. Stewart. It tells the true story of Rick Rescorla who, as head of security for Morgan Stanley at Two World Trade Center, successfully guided the company’s 2,700 employees to safety and then, returning to rescue others, perished in the building’s collapse. Baritone Thomas Hampson will sing the role of Rick, Melody Moore will portray his wife, Susan Rescorla, and tenor William Burden as Rick’s friend, Daniel J. Hill. Last December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, I attended a press preview that included among others the composer, stage director Francesca Zambello, and David Gockley. Melody Moore and baritone Austin Kness sang a duet from the score. The music was light and soothing and the scene was beautifully bittersweet. When it came time to address the panel, I was eager to praise the composer and express how refreshing it is to hear something I’d want to remember afterwards. Prior to the opening of SF Ballet’s Nanna’s Lied, I met with Melody to talk about her rising career and her progress with the role of “Susan Rescorla”.
Thomas Hampson — Melody Moore
Melody: Christopher Theofanidis is amazing and that duet is really pretty. It’s placed right at the beginning of Act 2. It comes at a time when you want a little joy. It’s written so clearly, right at the point where their relationship started. It’s tender and bright and hopeful.
Sean: Where are you with the role today?
Melody: The ink was dry when we got the music. I don’t think that major changes are happening to it. As of today – I’m ready. If we had to put it on tomorrow, I’d go do it. We’ve spent some really intensive hours in the workshop.
Sean: It’s in your voice.
Melody: I’m ready. It’s in my voice totally.
Sean: I saw you first in 2006 as “The Countess” in Le Nozze di Figaro when you were an Adler Fellow. You had stepped in for Twyla Robinson who I was dying to see. None of us knew until days later that it centered around a flight delay and a missed orchestra rehearsal. And since you were the rehearsal soprano all along – suddenly you’re on! I have to admit I was in an “OK, show me” attitude, but I’m also in sympathy with the pressure heaped upon any singer at such a moment. Now’s the time to prove yourself. You were absolutely fantastic and some of us were yelling “Brava!” and praising you in his review. And our paths have been crossing since. Now, I get to see you as The Leading Lady in a World Premiere. That’s quite a journey!
Melody: (Laughing) Uh, yeah! It’s happened because people had faith in me when I didn’t necessarily have that faith in myself. I do now. But I have to say I am so grateful to David Gockley, Sheri Greenwald, Mark Morash, the coaching team, as well as any of the conductors that came through who were so encouraging. They have kept me in the back of their minds and never let me go.
Sean: Has all this happened since David Gockley took over as General Director?
Melody: It’s been since he came in. By the time I was in the Merola Program he was starting here. Pamela Rosenberg was part of the Merola Finale – she was there to listen. But as far as what was going to happen around its people – about who would go on to the Adlers, things like that – she was no longer making decisions.
Sean: David Gockley is my hero.
Melody: I feel the same. He’s a genius.
Sean: When he saw investment monies disappearing because of the stock market ordeal and the prolonged recession, he promises that San Francisco Opera will keep the quality of the talent high and maintain a sharp eye on the production costs. Then he delivers the goods in a most fantastic way. I appreciate how difficult it must be to assemble an international cast for a production that may be several years down the road. I also know how to listen. How exactly do you produce an acceptable and harmonious Madama Butterfly, for example, with this much money as opposed to who or what might have been accessible had the recession not happened? This is where Gockley shows his creativity and absolute know-how.
Melody: He’s still making it happen. This world premiere is no small shakes. For somebody that has the boldness to continue with world premieres because it’s important and in the face of financial crisis – hats off!
Sean: When do you actually begin full rehearsals for Heart of a Soldier and what will you be doing in the meantime?
AUSTIN KNESS and MELODY MOORE. Photo, S.M.
Melody: Rehearsals start in August. I’m doing seven performances of Nanna’s Lied with the San Francisco Ballet. It’s a selection of his more popular songs set to dance. There’s a trajectory of a story happening although the songs may not have an historical trajectory, but within the visual of what’s happening on stage it does. The songs all relate to one another. “Surabaya Johnny” is in there, “Havanna Lied” and “Nanna’s Lied”. There’s this kind-of knock ‘em down bar brawl song that’s really funny. I’ll be in the pit for this. It will be incredibly fun because I get to collaborate in a way where I’m not the Lead. Nobody sees me and it’s right up my alley. Then the New Century Chamber Orchestra with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is doing a Schubert concert. I will be doing four of his songs – An den Mond (one and two), Gretchen am Spinnrade, and Sehnsucht. I’m doing Seance On A Wet Afternoon for New York City Opera. I play the part of “Rita Clayton”, the wife. The story is the same as the 1964 film. I’m playing a woman who has lost her child through an abduction. She believes – through the manipulation of a psychic – that the child might be dead and is speaking through from the other side. It’s an interesting topic. It premiered at Santa Barbara and I believe it’s the only time it’s been performed.
Sean: How did this happen for you?
Melody: I’ve auditioned for them quite a lot. I auditioned for a “Donna Anna” and “Elvira” at the same time.
Sean: Even with all your work here?
Melody: Yes. I went out to New York City for some auditions and sang for them. Ed Young, from the company, came to see a Giovanni I did in Cincinnati, a shortened concert version, just to listen to me. It ended up that it was not kind-of what they wanted for the way they were going with their Donna Anna. They wanted the more original Mozartean idea of her – which was a little brighter and more brilliant on the coloratura instead of it being a heavier, bigger voice. But they always kept in touch and at some point asked me to do Intermezzo – and I wasn’t available. Then this offer came not too long after that audition.
Sean: How far down the road are you booked?
Melody: I can’t tell you the name of the opera or where because I haven’t signed the contracts yet. 2013.
Sean: How nice to know what you’re going to be doing two years from now.
Melody: I have to tell you, I’m very excited about that. There’s one in 2012 also. Both of those engagements would be fine if that’s all that happened the whole year.
Sean: Where do you practice?
Melody: When I was an Adler, I used to practice at the opera house all the time. That’s just one of the benefits of being an Adler. But they’ve had to be a little more judicious about security. There’s a lot going on in the opera house, they can’t let people just go in and out at will. So, these days, I have a friend who has a piano studio. When I need to use one, I can co-ordinate with him and go there. If not, I can practice in my apartment. I shut all the windows, put the blinds down, pull the curtains, put a towel by the door – try to cushion the sound as much as possible. I wouldn’t rehearse for more than about a half-hour anyway. I mostly just warm-up. I learn so fast that I don’t necessarily have to sing the notes to learn them. Yes, I have to get them in my body – but I can go really far before having to find a rehearsal space. I don’t have a lot of concern about my voice not being there.
Sean: Can you arrange in advance to practice at the opera house?
Melody: Yes and if there’s a reason for me to be doing it. If I’m involved in a project around there, like the project with the Ballet. I’m allowed to go in and practice because I’m involved with something happening in the opera house. When not, I have to ask really nicely – “If nothing else is going on, might I come for two hours?” Most of the time they’re very good about that. I understand the need to keep it tight. It’s Big Business.
Sean: What role do you really-really want to do? One of these days – “They” are going to produce it and you’re the one singing it.
Melody: I want to sing Peter Grimes (“Ellen”), the “Marschallin” (Der Rosenkavalier), and – in my Dream World, at some point in my life – “Tosca”. I think, character-wise, there’s never been a better fit. I could walk into that role and sell it. Vocally, it’s more of a forties role than a thirties role. So, I need to wait. But, I can still be looking at it. I think it will come around. Even if it meant that I tried it first in a 2,000 seat house and saw how it fit – that’s fine. I’m more just interested in singing the role. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a major production or for a major opera company. I’d like to try it.
Sean: Do you see yourself as having a European career, in the sense of living there?
Melody: It’s a logistics thing. A lot of times those contracts are not as Guest Performers but as Fest Performers. So, you end up staying on at least a two-year to five-year contract. Let’s say I had a two-year contract in Berlin. They may have me singing the Countess, Desdemona, and Eleanor – or something like that, all at once, right on top of each other. I’ve sung at English National Opera a couple of times and I know they will have me back.
Sean: And the European houses vary in capacity, from 520 seats at Monte Carlo to less than 1400 at the Staatsoper in Berlin
Melody: The pressure is less and you can try things. You can really get hold of yourself.
Sean: What’s on your schedule following Heart of A Soldier?
Melody: I’ll be covering “Elvira” in Don Giovanni. That’s at Thanksgiving time. So, I’ll be around and if they need me I’ll go on. And the next one is still a secret.
Sean: But it’s got your name written all over it?
Melody: It’s got my name written all over it.
MELODY MOORE – as “Manon Lescaut”
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Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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