Many musical institutions are broadcasting “at-home concerts” right now, for understandable reasons. One of these institutions is the Los Angeles Opera. Last week, the company presented Latonia Moore, and you can still see the video, here.
Ms. Moore is a soprano from Texas, and I have been writing about her for a long time. Here is a review of a recital of hers from May 2007. It took place in Weill Recital Hall, here in New York. The heading: “Direct, Sincere & Lovable.” That is still true, in abundance.
In the new video, she does not exactly sing “at home.” She sings in a church: St. Hugh Catholic Church (if I have heard correctly) in Miami, Florida. She is accompanied by Roberto Berrocal, a pianist from Spain. They begin with something operatic: the Letter Scene.
Which is how Latonia Moore began her recital all those years ago. I will quote from my review:
At the outset, there was a table on the stage—what was it doing there? Ah: Ms. Moore was beginning with the Letter Scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, and she would sit right down and write herself a letter. In my view, you should either sing a recital or perform in opera: you’re either in or out. But others disagree, and Ms. Moore did her acting zestily.
And she sang with authority. Initially, she was a bit breathy, possibly nervous. But she soon settled down, pouring forth her big, beautiful voice. She seemed to make no effort to reduce that voice for this little recital hall—which was fine by at least some of us. She’s got it, and she lets it out, unapologetically.
There is a lot going on in that voice, too: it has vibrancy, colors, and assorted other wonders.
Yes. In the Miami video, the soprano sings the Letter Scene with a sense of rhapsody, as she rides the contours of the music. She conveys the swirling emotions of a young girl (namely the opera’s Tatiana). Mr. Berrocal is musical and focused—intensely focused. He is now and then stiff and erring, but these problems are overwhelmed by the intense musical commitment.
Between selections, Ms. Moore talks to the audience, or rather to the camera, as there is no audience, at least present in the church. She talks with immediacy and charm. After her Tchaikovsky, she says that this recital is “the shot of adrenalin I needed to wake me up from this pandemic.”
Then she sings more Russian music: a set of Rachmaninoff songs, as she did in her 2007 recital.
After her Letter Scene, Ms. Moore stuck with the Russian repertory, singing a half-dozen Rachmaninoff songs. Some of them require a light, floating quality, and Ms. Moore did not show that. Also, her singing was a little unmodulated, a little unnuanced—everything tended to be big, lush, and pulsing.
But Ms. Moore sang beautifully and movingly, there is no doubt about that. This lady obviously takes delight in singing, and in music. May she never get jaded. She touches her listeners, wins them over, cheers them up. We are in the realm of intangibles.
Yes. By the evidence of the Miami video, she has not gotten jaded. She throws her big, gorgeous instrument at Rachmaninoff, and Rachmaninoff loves her for it. The pianist, too, performs with full-heartedness and skill.
Some more quoting:
To close the first half of the recital, Ms. Moore sang “Addio, addio, mio dolce amor,” from Puccini’s Edgar. Decades ago, Leontyne Price put this aria on the map with a recording (stunning, of course). And Ms. Moore sang it with due ardor.
From Miami, she does not sing “Addio, addio, mio dolce amor.” But she sings an aria from Edgar—a “lesser-known aria,” as she says. It is “D’ogni dolor.” She explains that she is singing it in honor of Marcello Giordani, the late Italian tenor. She worked with him—in Edgar, not least—and he was helpful to her.
Her singing of the aria is not her best work in this recital. She is sometimes thin up top and sometimes wayward of pitch. Still, I appreciate her devotion to Edgar, an opera that I have a particular fondness for as well. It gets lost in the big, bold Puccini catalogue.
In New York, those years ago, she sang Wintter Watts (yes, two t’s—not just in his last name but in his first, too). He is an American composer who lived from 1884 to 1962. I don’t believe I had heard of him. I was glad to make his acquaintance. I don’t believe I have heard him since—until now, because Ms. Moore sings him again.
Above, I spoke of “a sense of rhapsody.” The soprano applies this sense to her Watts songs, and Roberto Berrocal is right with her, rhapsodically.
Toward the end of her recital, she makes a strongly personal statement. She pays tribute to teachers who helped her along the way, starting in middle school. She then says, “I’ve shied away from singing spirituals for years in my recitals because I didn’t want to be stereotyped.” (Ms. Moore is black, I ought to mention.)
One of the great things about opera, she says, is that you get to be a “chameleon”: a Japanese geisha, a Spanish noblewoman, a Chinese slave girl, an Indian princess. And yet . . .
“I faced a lot of racism.” She says she has not tended to speak up about this and related problems—but now she is.
And she indeed sings a spiritual: “Soon I Will Be Done with the Trouble of the World.” She sings it with considerable power, by which I don’t mean vocal power—although there’s that—but emotional power. And she exhibits, not just a soprano voice, or even a mezzo-soprano voice, but a contralto-ish one.
About twenty minutes into this recital, I made a note: “What a woman, what an instrument.”
In New York, thirteen years ago, she sang a song by James East: “He’s So Wonderful.” One lyric goes, “I’ll trust him to the end. My Jesus, what a friend!” I wrote, “Not everyone could get away with singing this song, but I have a feeling that no one will stop Latonia Moore, ever. Her singing of this song lifted up the heart.”
I have not heard the song since. If the soprano is taking requests—may I put in a request for this one? Her singing of “He’s So Wonderful” is one of my top moments in a lifetime of concertgoing.