David Bates and Lucy Crowe have a long acquaintance with each other and the fiendish and charismatic heroines of Handel and Mozart. They brought their considerable talents to bear on a stunningly composed programme of operatic arias and serenades at St John’s Smith Square in London on this cold November night.
The first-half of the evening was devoted to Cleopatra’s thrilling and chilling arias from Giulio Cesare, as she greets and seduces the Roman emperor in ‘V’adoro pupille’, contemplates his possible death in battle in ‘Se pieta’ and ‘Piangero’ and finally celebrates his victory with ‘Da tempeste’. La Nuova Musica set the scene with the dramatic Overture from the opera, electrifyingly pacy, but never losing subtle detail, dynamics or shape. Crowe was channelling Cleopatra in more ways than one: a golden dress and an even more lustrous tone. Provocative, flirtatious, desperate, every aspect of the Egyptian queen’s psyche was on display. Her performance was astonishing. The technical demands of these arias are extreme and when combined with acting and musicianship of this calibre, the results were sensational. The energy was infused by Bates’s individual approach to these set pieces, poised at moments of elation or despair within the action of the opera. He introduced an improvised feel to the da capo arias, with intricate, unexpected and wild ornamentation, which Crowe achieved to perfection. Leaps, trills and melismas added to the emotion, embellishing and charging each phrase. Sobs and laughter were musically conveyed within Handel’s intention. The audience responded equally wildly to every piece, with rapturous ‘bravos’.
Mozart’s heroines were presented with a graver palette in the second half, Crowe. Vocal pyrotechnics of a more roccoco nature studded the first two melancholy arias from Mozart’s teenage years: ‘Al destin, che la minaccia’ from Mitridate and ‘Ah! se il crudel periglio’ from Lucio Silla. These rarities displayed Mozart’s prodigious gifts and Crowe’s dexterity and flexibility throughout her range.
The strings of La Nuova Musica, led by Matthew Truscott, impressed in Mozart’s Serenade in D and burnished the familiar Allegro from Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Vulnerable and proud, The Contessa Rosina and Fiordiligi were presented next: timeless and humane portraits of female strength, complexity and fragility. ‘S’altro che lacrime’ from La Clemenza di Tito closed the evening with sweet dignity. Bates, Crowe and La Nuova Musica made music as one, a moving and vital presence and a musical relationship to be treasured and developed even further.