by Rich Arenschieldt
Operatic divas are often like those finicky long-haired cats you see in pet food commercials—delicate, aloof, and usually only able to do one thing, albeit usually better than anyone else. Enter mold-breaker Melody Moore, who is returning to Houston to sing the role of Dorabella in Mozart’s comic masterpiece Così fan tutte.
Houston’s Wortham Theater stage is an unlikely destination for a small-town girl whose only exposure to music came from her Pentecostal church in Tennessee. “I was raised in a home that was musically limited, singing only hymns in church,” Moore said. “Even in high school, I had no idea that I wanted to be a singer or that a musical career was even a possibility for me.” Moore received a full scholarship to study voice at Louisiana State University, a place where she blossomed musically, intellectually, and personally. “LSU was the place where everything happened for me. I began to know classical music in a very serious way.”
Many students at LSUhad already studied music and knew vocal technique and repertoire, something unfamiliar to Moore. “Being ill-informed, I felt behind the eight-ball musically compared to many of my peers. I hadn’t actually seen or heard an opera until I was in college. I remember going to the audio section in the basement of the library that housed their collection of classical music tapes and vinyl records. I asked the librarian if they had opera. She wanted know what I was looking for. I told her, ‘Everything.’ For several months after that, I spent nearly every night in that basement listening to the collection alphabetically from A to Z.”
“Coming out” musically coincided with profound self-revelation for Moore. “As a singer who had no classical experience, being thrust into an intense academic musical environment was a real challenge—certainly equal to that of coming out of the closet and accepting my sexuality; especially so, given my religious background.”
As with so many other performers, the sudden necessity to embrace a “personal truth” was vital for Moore. Like other LGBT trailblazing opera stars (notably Patricia Racette and Patrick Carfizzi), complete personal honesty was absolutely necessary for Moore in order for her to flourish as a musical communicator. “My musical life was deeply intertwined with the truth that I was able to reveal about myself.” These two watershed moments in Moore’s life “went hand in hand, and to a large extent, determined what kind of musician I was able to be.”
As in many cases, Moore’s family greeted her revelation with some hostility. “Nobody in the family took it very well, and given that my parents were split up at the time, there was already some preexisting tumult within the household.” As a result, Moore sought out her community of faith for acceptance—which, unfortunately, did not materialize. “Having had a difficult situation at home, I had always come to rely upon my long-established church relationships for support. This was the place where I had ‘family’ and many friends upon whom I could rely. When I disclosed that I was a lesbian, their reaction was almost immediate. Many whom I had known for years cut off all communication and wouldn’t speak to me. As painful as this was, their response motivated me to examine who I was and how I related to those around me.”
“It was now time for me to critically examine how honest I was being with others. That said, even then I didn’t completely grasp the seriousness of my decision or its ramifications—what it meant to completely reveal myself to others. My own sense of integrity motivated me to just do it—not to live a partial existence, telling some people one thing and others another. That selective revelation eventually creates conflict. You become someone who feels compelled to continually explain yourself, and in so doing, are perceived to be ashamed of yourself.
After LSU, Moore attended Kent State University to study with voice teacher James Mismas who, with his partner, Bruce Stebner, were her mentors, both musically and personally. “Back in the mid-’90s, James and Bruce were raising children, one of whom they had full custody of—something almost unheard of at the time. Little did I realize that upon moving to rural northern Ohio, I would meet two of the most important people in my life, and from whom I would receive such tremendous support and affirmation.”
For Moore, personal and musical truth coexist within her completely. “Truth is the vehicle that impacts people. You can interpret a great score with a gorgeous voice accompanied by an amazing orchestra and not have the full equation. However, if there isn’t a ‘conduit of truth’ that connects each of those elements, audiences will sense that something is missing and be left uninspired.”
“My coming out was my first journey into what I call ‘harsh truth”—which, to me, is a crucial truth that has some pain associated with it, and one that must be told, regardless of the result. Interestingly enough, my life became better as I became more truthful—and so did my music.”
Harsh truth permeates the operatic art form, especially in the operas of Giacomo Puccini. Moore (who can sing almost any role, regardless of its vocal demands) strongly identifies with many of the composer’s famously tyrannized femmes. “Tosca (a role she debuted as an opening-night emergency stand-in for Angela Gheorghiu) is caught in a perpetual rock-and-a-hard-place dilemma. In the space of two hours she is transformed from a beautiful talented woman into a murderer, something not as removed from reality as you might think. Consider what any of us would do if we were forced to save our families or others we love who were being injured or victimized in some way. You never know what you are capable of until you are confronted with that circumstance. Similarly, Puccini’s Cio-Cio San (in Madame Butterfly) faces an equally untenable situation. Her sole connection to reality is what she knows to be true: she has met and married an American naval officer, they have a son, and they will (eventually) raise him together. Of course, none of this occurs, and for her, the result is catastrophic. All of us could be pushed to the unthinkable, to a sort of ‘horrible truth.’”
Houston audiences will experience the lighter side of opera as Moore assumes the role of Dorabella in Mozart’s comic masterpiece Così fan tutte at the Wortham Theater, October 31 through November 15. Vocally, the not-to-be-pigeonholed Moore has captivated Houston audiences singing everything from the lighthearted Showboat to Wagner’s Rheingold to the modern Holocaust-inspired The Passenger. Moore’s performances thrill audiences, earn her rave reviews, and garner a warm welcome back to Houston.