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Jason Moran, Alicia Hall Moran, Reuben Rogers, Charles Lloyd and Eric Harland
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At the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Source: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty

"Charles Lloyd New Quartet and Friends" March, 2013

Alicia Hall Moran: Improvisational Opera

Opera's Newest (And Most Unconventional) Star

Why you should care

Because the cultural life of a people marks the width and breadth of their ascent from the muck. Plus she can kill with eight bars of “This Land Is Your Land,” fer chrissakes.

If you’d asked Alicia Hall Moran how she was feeling a year ago, fresh off the heels of a Broadway run, the Harlem-based opera singer would sigh and say it was like finally getting “off the treadmill.” It’s an understatement, considering she wasn’t just in the ensemble of Broadway’s Porgy & Bess; she was also the understudy for Audra McDonald’s Bess and, for a few months, performed the role each Wednesday. Juggling eight shows a week, rehearsals for two parts, five-year-old twins, a weeklong commission she was asked to do for the Whitney Museum Biennial and, you know, sleep, left her feeling depleted — and energized at the same time.

Alicia Hall, The Highline Ballroom, NYC

Source: John Rogers

Alicia Hall, The Highline Ballroom, NYC

And it also explains why she has signed back on, heading out in November to star as Bess in the national tour. “Doing theater every day is like pushing a rock up a mountain. There’s the exertion of always moving it forward and also going out there, raw and wondering, ‘How is this going to end?’” she told us last year. And how does she feel now that the tour is about to kick off? “It feels glorious, effortless. Look, this show has already won its Tony – the heavy lifting has been done. Now I get the chance to relive this music every night and, as a singer, that’s the thing, just singing this incredible music every night.” Anyone who’s listened to the groundbreaking Gershwin score, with all its soaring passion and searing heartbreak, would have to agree.

Nailing hard-to-execute routines has been the norm for Hall Moran throughout her career. When she’s not singing from the Porgy & Bess book, she is applying her voice to genres stretching far and wide. “I’ve departed from the classical mold, which is that you’re assigned music, you learn it and you perform it,” explains the mezzo-soprano. “I’m co-creating the music now, which is highly improvisatory.” That sounds fancy and hard and innovative, but what does it actually mean? It means that there are going to be more creations like the Motown Project (that’s not Motown the Musical, by the way), where she recreated the world of Mozart and translated it for a contemporary audience through Motown lyrics. Or new collaborations with her husband, Jason Moran, a jazz pianist and the Kennedy Center artistic director of jazz. Or works with others, like a late September performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center called “Gershwin & Beyond” featuring guitarist Bill Frisell.

Alicia Hall Draft

Source: Sean Drakes/Getty

There’s also another nugget of an idea that Hall Moran is nurturing, deciding what it means, how it will sound. “I was thinking I should do a project about twins, since I have them — you know, double, mirrors, something like that. But maybe what I really need to tackle is what it did to me emotionally to have my kids three months early and in very fragile health. They’re fine now … but I’m still dealing with it!” Brave, yes. Unexpected? For sure. But not surprising from the woman who lives by this advice she received from her mother: “She told me that when you have a complicated thing to say, it may take a long time to say it, but don’t stop.”

We will definitely be listening.

Hear her unique mix of Mozart and Motown

Update: This story has been updated to correct the length of time Hall Moran performed as Bess on Broadway, and to clarify song titles.

Cover Image: John Rogers

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