Latonia Moore vividly remembers the moment she fell in love with opera. She had entered the University of North Texas as a jazz performance major, but a requirement for classical music studies led her to sing in Ruggero Leoncavallo’s choir. Pagliacci (“Clowning”).
“I was just in the choir, humble little choir girl, but I fell in love with being someone else,” Moore said in an interview with NPR’s Leila Fadel. “Like me, Latonia from Houston, Texas, might be an Italian villager watching this comedia dell’arte the troop crosses the city. I felt so alive and at home.” She likens it to being a “chameleon.”
Moore didn’t grow up on a regular diet of opera. In fact, “my family doesn’t like opera. It’s not their thing.” But other types of music figured prominently in her childhood, during which she sang gospel music – including in her pastor grandfather’s own church – R&B and jazz. Her older sister Yolanda introduced her to art songs and she joined the choir.
Today, Moore graced opera stages around the world, with the title role in Verdi’s Aida being his most played and recognized. But it’s also one that comes with its fair share of controversy, since non-black singers often perform in blackface or have their bodies painted to portray the enslaved Ethiopian princess – long after such practices were shunned in other performing arts. But Moore said the tradition doesn’t bother her “as long as they haven’t crossed the line for most people.”
The audio version of this story was produced by Marc Rivers. Morning Edition host Leila Fadel conducted the interview.