Unsung Singers: Lucy Crowe

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On Tuesday and Wednesday, British soprano Lucy Crowe will make her Lincoln Center debut at the Mostly Mozart Festival. Previous entries in my series of “Unsung Singers” were artists further along in their careers who I feel deserve more recognition. Perhaps in the case of Ms. Crowe “unsung” should suggest that she has not yet performed in places where I could attend. Most of her career thus far has been in the United Kingdom.

In June, hers was the best Sophie I have ever heard and seen in Der Rosenkavalier. She more than held her own in a cast of vocal big-hitters in at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.

Crowe's acting was fresh and spontaneous and her conception of the role as being more headstrong than mincing completely changed the dynamic among the characters. She took initiative in her interest in Octavian, cared little about her duenna’s admonitions to be more ladylike, was uncompromising in her disdain for Baron Ochs and clearly knew what buttons to push to get what she wanted from her father. She was not bossy, just self-assured.

In a way, Crowe’s Sophie seemed like a Marschallin-in-the-making, but half the age. She (Sophie) had all the elements of what the Marschallin is, but without the finesse and allure. This makes sense dramatically and was key to this performance’s success. One could understand how Octavian could love the Marschallin and then be drawn to this Sophie.

Then I heard her on WQXR as Iole in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s wonderful performance of Handel’s Hercules. Again she was in a company of exemplary artists, including David Daniels, Eric Owens and Alice Coote and, on radio at least, she was thrilling. It prompted me to find a Handel performance of hers: “Let the Bright Seraphim” from Samson:

And here is a brief snippet of her as Adina in The Elixir of Love (L’Elisir d’Amore) at English National Opera. Although this is a promotional video, her vocal and theatrical attributes come shining through.

At the Mozart Festival at Avery Fisher Hall, Crowe will be performing the Ave Verum Corpus (K.618), a small jewel of a work written in Mozart’s last months. She will also perform in Vesperae solennes del confessore, an ecclesiastical work composed in Salzburg in 1780. Joining Crowe will be mezzo-soprano Helen Karloski, tenor Brian Dougherty and bass Scott Wheatley, none of whose work I know. The program also includes the “Jupiter” symphony (K. 551), Mozart’s last, written in 1788. The Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and the Concert Chorale of New York will all be under the baton of Iván Fischer.

At 32, Lucy Crowe has sung lots of Monteverdi, Purcell, Handel and other “early” composers and is gradually expanding her repertory. I am sure she is a splendid Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. She also has added Gilda in Rigoletto, which I would love to see and hear. And Glyndebourne has her in the title role of Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen. I gather that a Metropolitan Opera debut is in the offing, perhaps in the 2012-2013 season, and I hope it is a role that really shows off the special gifts this young artist seems to possess.

Have you heard Lucy Crowe? If so, in what? Are there other rising artists or unsung singers you think deserve more recognition?