When she was two, Grace Moore’s family relocated to the city of Knoxville, later moving again to Jellico, where she spent her adolescence. She sang in a church choir and after high school studied briefly at Ward-Belmont College in Nashville before enrolling at the Wilson Greene Music School in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
After making her professional debut in a recital at the National Theatre, Washington DC, in 1919, Moore moved to New York City, where she sang in a nightclub to pay for vocal lessons with Mario Marafioti. She appeared in the shows Suite Sixteen, Just a Minute and Up in the Clouds, before making her solo debut in the 1920 edition of the revue Hitchy-Koo, which featured music by Jerome Kern. Moore then sang in Town Gossip before travelling to Paris to train for an operatic career. When her money ran out, she returned to Broadway to star in Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revue of 1923, singing ‘An Orange Grove in California’ as orange blossom perfume was wafted throughout the theatre. Returning to France in 1925, she was recommended by the soprano Mary Garden to the operatic coach Richard Barthelemy.
Moore auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera, New York in 1927 and made her debut there as Mimì / La Bohème in 1928 to a warm reception, followed by Lauretta / Gianni Schicchi and Micaëla / Carmen. After singing Juliette / Roméo et Juliette at Deauville, she repeated her New York success as Mimì in Paris at the Opéra-Comique, also in 1928. During the next few seasons at the Met Moore sang the title roles in Manon (1929), Marguerite / Faust (1930) and Giulietta / Les Contes d’Hoffmann (1932).
In 1930 Moore went to Hollywood, appearing in the films A Lady’s Morals (1930, a biography of Jenny Lind) and New Moon (1930), both with MGM. In 1932 she appeared on Broadway in the operetta The Dubarry and returned to Hollywood in 1934 to make several films with Columbia. In One Night of Love (1934) she played a small-town girl who aspires to sing opera, a role for which she was nominated for an Oscar. Later Hollywood successes included When You’re in Love and I’ll Take Romance (both 1937). Her final film was a cinematic version made in France of Charpentier’s opera Louise (1939), for which the composer rearranged the music, coached Moore and advised the director Abel Gance.
At the Royal Opera House, London in 1935 Moore’s debut as Mimì met with a rapturous reception. With the same role she returned to the Met for several performances between 1936 and 1938 (also singing Manon) and repeated Mimì at the Met in 1939, a performance which the New York Times described as ‘a thoughtful, sincere and dramatically effective accomplishment’. Moore stayed with the Met during the war years, singing Flora in Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre re in 1941 (having previously sung this role in Chicago) as well as the title part in Tosca (1941).
It was as Tosca that Moore made her last Met appearance, in February 1946. During the latter part of that year she toured Europe, giving concerts in England, France and Italy as well as a recital at the Salzburg Festival; and died in a plane crash early the next year after giving a concert in Copenhagen.
At ease in café society, Moore became a glamorous international figure as a ‘star of stage, screen and radio’. She possessed a sensuous and substantial voice, and was greatly admired by contemporaries, not least by the French. Her autobiography, You’re Only Human Once, was published in 1944.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).