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I spent most of this production playing “spot Lucy Crowe.” She first turns up in Act III as part of the entertainment Titania stages for Bottom’s delight. They’ve got her costumed like a refugee from a J.Crew catalog shoot, but she sounds lovely. I had never heard her sing before, although I had encountered a lot of glowing reviews – and I can certainly hear the reason for the glow.
I wish there was more of her in this. She reappears, as do most of the singers, in several different roles – as Juno, for example, and as one of several women who welcome Hymen, the god of marriage (here a drab-looking minister toting a Sainsbury’s bag full of bridal garlands) at the end – none of which offer more than few minutes of music.
Carolyn Sampson gets a little more singing time, both as Night and later on as an unnamed figure who sings the sad “O, let me weep,” about a woman mourning her dead lover, in the mainly celebratory final act. It’s a beautiful song (and I enjoyed the violin and lute accompaniment) and it seems to be in there as a moment of contrast. This song is one of several elements, including Adam and Eve’s more humorous breakup, that undercut the “let’s all live happily ever after!” aspect of the final act in a way that is entirely consistent with a baroque spectacle like this. This is a sprawling piece of entertainment rather than a tightly-plotted opera, and variety both in terms of silly/serious and in terms of joyful/sad is part of the charm (and is very much what a seventeenth-century audience would have expected as well.)
There are many other moments of very good singing in this, but it’s sometimes tricky to figure out who is actually singing because 1. the booklet lists the names of the singers next to one of the roles that they play, but not all and 2. the track listing doesn’t indicate who is in each scene, which is fine because it’s usually pretty obvious (e.g. Apollo is kind of hard to mistake) but sometimes it isn’t. And because this is baroque music of a certain type, the arias are often quite short – more than once I wanted the part I was enjoying to be a little longer. In general with this performance, I found myself wishing that the musical bits were a little longer. I like a good play as much as the next person, but in this case I had moments when I would have agreed with Blackadder about the usefulness of actors.