British soprano Lucy Crowe has parlayed a pair of big substitute-appearance breaks into a flourishing career that encompasses both Baroque and classic 19th century repertory.
A native of England's Staffordshire region, Crowe was inspired to take up singing by an LP of Maria Callas' greatest hits. She started voice lessons at age ten and persisted despite bullying from her classmates, gaining admission to and graduating after six years from the Royal Academy of Music. Crowe won several prizes and made her debut in a Scottish Opera production of Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. Her career got a major boost in 2007 when, on short notice, she stepped into a production at the English National Opera of Handel's Agrippina in which she enlivened the production of director David McVicar with striptease moves. She continued to perform in both Baroque and Romantic repertory, collaborating with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, The Sixteen, the King's Consort, and Les Musiciens du Louvre, among others. In the U.S. she sang Mozart's Requiem in D minor, K. 626, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, and she performed a 2010 concert of Baroque opera at London's Wigmore Hall with Rolando Villazón.
Another major break came in 2012, when she was recommended by conductor John Eliot Gardiner (with whom she had performed Haydn's late oratorios) as a last-minute sub in the role of Gilda for a Royal Opera production of Verdi's Rigoletto. She had never sung the role, and she had given birth to a baby girl just a few months earlier. On the premiere night, she told The Telegraph, "I felt like a bottle of Coke that had been shaken up and was about to explode. I kept bursting into tears — standing in the wings waiting to go on was much more frightening than giving birth." She triumphed, however, and reprised the role of Gilda at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. She returned to the Royal Opera for Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore in 2014. Crowe has appeared on several major recordings of opera and oratorio, including, in 2017, a recording of Martinu's rarely heard English-language The Epic of Gilgamesh under Manfred Honeck and with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.