Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Chat with David Adam Moore

Baritone David Adam Moore has become a recognizable face and voice at Seattle Opera, going back to his days as a member of the Young Artists Program. More recently, Seattle audiences saw him as Zurga in 2009's The Pearl Fishers. Now he's currently performing in the Friday/Sunday cast of The Barber of Seville, winning audiences over with his "dashing and mischievous Figaro" (Examiner.com). Moore (shown here with Kate Lindsey as Rosina) has earned repeated invitations to Seattle and other cities thanks to his vocal and theatrical abilities, but he is also known as one of opera's best-looking men. Today we catch up with Moore and ask him what he thinks about that distinction, and we also learn about his interest in composing and DJing electronic music when he's not performing in the opera hall.

It’s no secret that blogs such as Barihunks are big fans of yours. What’s it like to have earned the title of a “Barihunk” and have people swooning over you online?
It's very flattering. Naturally, though, talking about this in reference to myself is a little awkward.

Sex is an important element in opera plots, and I like the fact that these blogs exist because it indicates that there are opera enthusiasts who are aware of sexuality in opera and demand that performers have the ability to inhabit the sexuality of their characters. I don't really follow opera blogs, but from what I've seen, Barihunks seems to treat the subject in a tasteful way— it goes more deeply into aspects of the performers' work than just pointing out pictures of their biceps.

I often hear people worry that opera companies will begin casting more on looks than vocal and acting ability. I don't think this will happen because the learning curve that goes into becoming a decent opera singer is massive: vocal technique, languages, musicianship, acting. Unlike the film/TV/pop music world, there's no way to sidestep these requirements by being pretty. A full, beautiful voice and an engaging character will always give audiences more goose bumps than well-defined abs.

David Adam Moore as Zurga in Seattle Opera's 2009 production of The Pearl Fishers.

It seems that many people in these two casts are friends or have worked with each other before. What about you—do you have any prior connections to anyone in this Barber group?
This production felt like a reunion of sorts. Most of us had known one another previously, and a few of the performers are long-time friends of mine. Larry Brownlee and I were in the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program together several years ago, with Dean Williamson as Music Director. Patrick Carfizzi and I worked together here just two years ago in Pearl Fishers: he was Nourabad and I played Zurga—VERY different characters with a very different relationship from Bartolo and Figaro! Kate Lindsey and I were Stephano and Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette recently in St. Louis. I've worked with Peter Kazaras (as a singer) several times.

You recently were honored by your hometown of Vidor, TX, with a star on their new Walk of Fame. Can you tell us a little about Vidor, and what it’s like to be immortalized there now?
Vidor is a small town in southeast Texas, 30 miles from Louisiana, and 100 miles from Houston. The town itself consists mainly of pine forests, trailer parks, churches, and a strong, distinctly Texan, local culture. For some reason, a number of notable musicians have emerged from Vidor. Most of them have been Country-Western and Blues musicians like George Jones and Billie Jo Spears, so I was thrilled that when the city built a Walk of Fame, they decided to include someone from the classical music world. Very few people in Vidor have been exposed to classical music, much less opera, so I hope this will raise opera's profile there. My father, Bubba Moore, is a noted bassist/singer in the country music world. He was inducted, too, so this was very exciting for my family, most of whom are country musicians.

David Adam Moore (Figaro) in the Friday/Sunday cast of The Barber of Seville.

Some people may not know that in addition to singing, you also compose music yourself. How long have you been composing music?
Growing up in a family of musicians, I had been making up songs since I was a kid. As a teenager, I began DJing, collecting synthesizers, and writing and performing electronic music in the style of Depeche Mode, New Order, etc. I didn't discover classical music or singing until college, where I spent my first two years studying composition and voice. Because I went in with no previous classical training, the body of knowledge I had to ingest was so enormous that I eventually decided to drop composition and concentrate on singing and acting. Several years later, after grad school, I rediscovered electronic music and have been composing as an avocation since. Most of my work has been electronic dance music under the moniker "kickplate"—bass-heavy minimal techno, electro, and glitchy downtempo. I've also DJed in a few clubs here in Queen Anne and Capitol Hill.

I'm beginning to compose more "serious" music, though. I wrote a piece for 6 dancers, 4 sopranos, and electronics, in collaboration with a Slovenian band called "Silence," that was performed at NYC's 92nd Street Y two months ago. It went very well. Stylistically, the music is very tonal and accessible, with a few minutes of extended vocal techniques by the dancers— clicks, hisses, moaning, etc.— building into a climactic, highly-structured chorale carried over by the sopranos, on top of a huge, slow techno beat. We crafted the electronic track in a way that uses frequencies that allow space for the voices to carry in the hall without being amplified—like in opera. I want to explore this idea of mixing unamplified operatic voices with amplified sounds more, so I'm now writing an atonal piece called "Minotaur" for bass-baritone and subwoofer, utilizing the subwoofer itself as an "acoustic" instrument.

I've also been getting into video and projection design. I put together a concert of Schubert's Winterreise with video projections, which I performed last year in Houston, and I've also been making little site-specific video installations.

Nicholas Phan (Count Almaviva) and David Adam Moore (Figaro) in the Friday/Sunday cast of The Barber of Seville.

So you’re clearly interested in many types of music, including very contemporary pop/rock styles. What about when it comes to opera?
I love contemporary music! If it's well-written, it can offer audiences something to which they can more easily relate than older works. We often forget that many of the great warhorses of opera were once "contemporary" pieces. When Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro premiered in Vienna's National Theater in 1786, it was a contemporary opera in every sense. Its characters were contemporary figures in contemporary dress, its score was considered difficult, and it was based on a play so controversial that it was officially banned only two years before. To 1780s Viennese audiences, this opera wasn't a charming masterpiece to be coddled and preserved— it was an irreverent, critical mirror of contemporary society.

I try to perform as much contemporary opera as I can, but, because the music tends to be more complex, these pieces take a lot of prep time, so I usually end up doing 2 or 3 large-scale works per year and whatever smaller-scale pieces I can work into my schedule. The quality of vocal writing in contemporary music can vary wildly these days, so it's always nice, from a vocal standpoint, to return to a vintage work that has withstood the test of time. The standard repertory is essentially a sampling of the most successful writing of the past 400 years— pieces with superior vocal writing, beautiful music, and compelling stories that have been "naturally selected" over others throughout the decades.

One of my favorite contemporary operas to perform is a monodrama for baritone and chamber orchestra by David T. Little called Soldier Songs. It's a powerful piece that deals with war, combat post-traumatic stress disorder, and the way in which soldiers are misunderstood by society. Musically, its influences range from Schubert to Cannibal Corpse. It was a big hit in NYC two years ago, and we'll be staging it again at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in Connecticut this summer. There is talk of a recording as well, but that isn't solid yet. At the moment, I'm preparing the role of Vincent Van Gogh for a biographical opera called Vincent by Bernard Rands, and the Lucifer in Peter Eötvös' Die Tragödie des Teufels.

Photos by Rozarii Lynch


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