Soprano Melody Moore believes in female empowerment — perhaps that’s why she’s so drawn to the Lady Macbeths and Floria Toscas of the operatic stage. Luckily, these are the types of roles she’s been polishing since her earliest days as a budding singer, meticulously analyzing each and every leading lady throughout her development. But Moore is all grown up now, and on May 13 she once again steps into the title role of Puccini’s Tosca at LA Opera, under the baton of Maestro Grant Gershon.
With her fifth production of Puccini’s masterpiece underway, Moore doesn’t let repetition affect her artistic integrity. In her own words, it’s a role that changes as she matures, and her understanding of the character has zig-zagged across the mood board.
“I’ve definitely been Ninja Tosca, and I’ve been Broken Tosca, Numb Tosca, Jilted Tosca, Jealous Tosca….” she laughs. “I’ve asked myself a lot of questions about her, but as I perform it more and more, I’m always learning something different.”
Moore’s relationship with Tosca began approximately five years ago in San Francisco, where she’d been living and performing for years. A graduate of San Francisco Opera’s prestigious Adler Fellowship Program, she had much experience covering other leading Puccini roles with the company, even stepping in at the last minutes for ailing colleagues. When the opportunity arose to cover Tosca, it was actually Moore who initiated the deal, which she calls “a good move” on her part.
“I saw that Patricia Racette and Angela Gheorghiu were both performing the role, and I had covered Gheorghiu at San Francisco Opera twice — once in La Bohème and in La Rondine — and I thought if they can sing it, so can I. It would stand to reason that I must be trusted with the same type of repertoire that they’re doing,” Moore says. “I looked over the role and contacted [then Director of Artistic Administration] Gregory Henkel of San Francisco Opera and said, ‘I would like to cover Tosca,’ and there really wasn’t much of a pushback.”
Her debut in the role, however, would come much earlier than expected — Moore would go on as Tosca on opening night, mid-performance. Gheorghiu got through Act I, albeit severely plagued with food poisoning, before Moore stepped in to finish the show. She hadn’t even had the chance to sing through the role with the orchestra before she was rushed into costume.
“It was hair-raising, yet also wonderful.”
Moore wouldn’t have been able to get through it without the exhaustive preparations that go along with learning a new role. Though each singer’s method varies, she says she always begins with the text and history of the piece, which helps elicit the memorization process.
“Somebody read a play and thought ‘I’ve got to make this into a musical experience.’ That’s where I get a lot of my beginning ideas,” Moore says. Her next steps involve translating what the librettist takes from the play and writes into the opera, followed by listening to the earliest recording possible of said show, all before finally opening the score. It’s a method that, although lengthy, allows her to completely grasp the character’s motives. With Floria Tosca, the process is no different — channeling the mindset of the singer-turned-murderess all boils down to narrative.
“In cases like Tosca, there is foundational material of people who, even if they were fictional, lived a life that was very much real,” Moore goes on to say. “Floria Tosca is not a fictional character in one way, because there were people like this.”
Since her unorthodox debut as the fallen diva, Moore will have completed five productions of Tosca following her LA Opera performance. It’s a role she’s made “her thing,” and has no plans to shelve it anytime soon. And with time, she’s learned to make the role her own. As a novice, she felt her interpretation of the role was “something akin” to the singers she was covering, one that was “a more demure approach to Tosca, and one that was very flirtatious.”
“As I had gotten into it a bit, I did have to explore whether or not she’s a serial killer, and whether or not this is a part of her blood,” she states. Moore has “since come a little softer from that mindset,” and undertakes a more “human” approach to the role.
“When push comes to shove, I believe that we’re all capable of doing something absolutely insane, if we’re trying to save ourselves or someone we love.”
She believes this to be especially relevant today, in a time where the rights of many global citizens are being tampered with, and at times, eliminated. With this in mind, Moore uses today’s political climate to drive her character’s motives, allowing herself into the mindset of one fearing for their life.
“Throughout the opera, Tosca thinks ‘I either stop him now, or he stops us.’ I think ‘the people,’ in big quotations, would do the same when there is injustice,” Moore says. “To stand by and watch, either the weakening of a person who has already been put in a weakened place, or a woman not able to move up in a career or decide, to just stand by and say ‘well, that’s the way things are’ doesn’t cut it.”
As Moore prepares to take the stage on May 13, she hopes audiences can see the relevance in Tosca’s moral struggle.
To learn more about Tosca and see Melody Moore perform the role, click here and purchase tickets to the May 13 show.
Arya Roshanian is a reporter based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Variety and Opera News.