The New York City Opera has faced countless ups and down recently, including its move from Lincoln Center, negotiating contracts with musicians, and regaining its footing as one of the great American opera companies. For those who have feared that such a special company would have trouble making its comeback should rest assured. This company is back as a New York opera presence and as George Steel, General Manager has said in an interview with Opera News, “We’re finding new audiences, retaking the city block by block.” New York City Opera is back with La Traviata and Prima Donna at Brooklyn academy of Music, Cosi Fan Tutte at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater and Orpheus at the El Museo del Barrio.
With all these special productions in New York City Opera’s repertoire, no jewel in the crown of the 2012 season looks more promising the premiere of Rufus Wainright’s first opera, Prima Donna and this reviewer is anxious to see if it lives up to the hype.
Prima Donna, sung in French, revolves around the diva Regine Saint Laurent, a star of the operatic stage, until she decided to stop singing forever after a performance as her favorite heroine, Alienore d’Aquitaine. Since, she has been living in her apartment, struggling with the challenges of love, life, and her return to the stage. These issues all play out in great drama for all to see.
Composer/performer Rufus Wainright, who takes his first steps into opera with this piece, describes it as “A love song to opera, soaked in the perennial operatic themes of loss, betrayal, delusion and nostalgia, and saturated in the musical styles of opera’s golden age” (The Times, London). This work shows all signs of a potential success, and opera lovers eagerly await it’s opening this afternoon.
But for such an important sounding modern opera, this piece requires some of the most talented singers in the business, most importantly, the leading lady of Prima Donna, Melody Moore. The rising soprano who recently had success in Seance on a Wet Afternoon at NYCO is playing the role of Regine Saint Laurent.
The biography provided by Ms. Moore’s website reads:
“Melody Moore, one of America’s exciting new talents, has recently had the honor of portraying Susan Rescorla in the World Premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ Heart of a Soldier at San Francisco Opera, 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 will return 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. In the summer of 2012, Melody will be on the San Francisco Opera stage as First Lady in The Magic Flute.
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.
Melody, a graduate of the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, is a 2007 San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow and former Merola Opera Program participant.”
Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to conduct an e-mail interview with the rising star. This is what she had to say:
Opera Teen: What got you interested in opera and sparked your career?
Melody Moore: I was raised near Memphis, Tennessee with no exposure to classical music or opera. In fact, more than half my schooling was in an Evangelical Church School and our music was gospel. When I entered public high school in Texas at 17 years old, I auditioned for the choral program and was immediately encouraged to audition for the prestigious Texas All-State Choir. After winning second and third chairs in the Texas All-State Choir program, my voice teacher (assigned to me for audition help) encouraged me to apply for college scholarships to music schools. I applied at Louisiana State University and got a full scholarship and saw my very first opera, La Traviata, produced by Baton Rouge Opera. I was hooked from the first scene! I’d never heard a live orchestra or even a recorded orchestra at that point. The rest of my career has contained a similar thread – encouragement from those who knew more and better than I did about my own talent.
OT: You recently had success at New York City Opera in Séance on a Wet Afternoon. Would you call NYCO your artistic home?
MM: To be very fair, I must call San Francisco Opera my artistic home as I was trained there in the Merola and Adler Programs and have been on the main stage there more times than any other house. However, it seems that if George Steel has anything to do with it, I may begin to call NYC Opera a “second home.”
OT: Would you recommend Prima Donna as a good opera for a first time opera goer? What makes this work special?
MM: I would recommend Prima Donna as a first opera experience. I think there are so many points of connectivity in this story. I believe that almost anyone will find relationships or tensions or fears that they fully understand. It is a very human piece.
I believe Prima Donna is special because it is an homage to opera by Rufus Wainwright. He has put all of the love and awe that he has felt for opera into this work. I believe this piece is also respectful toward women and toward the ever present challenges of aging in a field and in a world that too easily discards older artists as “yesterday’s news.”
OT: As you are both leading ladies, how do you relate to your role as Regine Saint Laurent, and what do you take from it?
MM: As I have continued to learn more and more into the character of Regine St. Laurent, I have begun to relate to her in a very deep way. She is faced with a near impossible “come-back” after a six year hiatus. She is under contractual pressure to emerge triumphant and to sing the role that made her both famous and that defined failure in her life. Without revealing too much, I relate to Regine’s stand. I relate to her ability to define and value herself as SHE sees fit.
OT:What kind of roles do you intend to take on in the future? Do you have any career aspirations or dream roles?
MM: I think all singers have dream roles. Some of mine would be Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, Katya in Katya Kabanova and Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier.
As far as what I intend….I am grateful to be working in this financially difficult time and am not SUPER picky. If the work speaks to me and if I have the ability to sing it well, I will probably sing it.
OT: Do you have anything to say to opera lovers who are planning or wishing to attend your future performances?
MM: I started as an opera lover and have continued to fall in love with the art form of opera. I believe that my love and respect for opera translates into passion and connection on stage. My desire has always been to take people on a journey of truth that they would not otherwise take – to speak in ways that help others to feel something cathartic.
The New York City Opera production of Prima Donna opens this afternoon at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and runs until February 25th. I’m truly hope to be able to see a production as grand sounding as this. If any of you are going to see Prima Donna, I’d love to know what you think! Leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.