“No make-up!”… Robert Crowe

Robert Crowe, described by the New York Times as “a male soprano of staggering gifts“, is a member of perhaps the world’s smallest vocal category. In 1995 he was only the second countertenor (and first male soprano) to be a National Winner of the Metropolitan Opera Competition. Mr. Crowe has sung on many opera stages in the US and in Europe and worked with such conductors as René Jacobs, Ivor Bolton, Fabio Biondi, Andreas Spering, Michael Hoffsteter, Julius Rudel, Rheinhard Goebel, Marcus Creed, and stage directors, Nicholas Broadhurst, David Alden, Peer Boysen, and Axel Köhler and many more. In May, 2008, Robert released his first solo CD, the Virtuoso Soprano Motets of Giacomo Carissimi, to international critical acclaim. He recently released a new solo cd entitled Songs to Mary: Marian Motets of Monteverdi, Grandi and Carissimi. He will be performing in Rome on next 20 February. For more information on Robert Crowe and his concert in Rome: http://robertcrowe.weebly.com/.

Which is the main feature of your personality?
This is the first question, and I left it to the last…it’s hard to answer.  I guess that I’m a bit of a know-it-all, but I really do mean well by it. That, and I tend to worry about things over which I have no control.
Your worst flaw?
Impatience…with myself, primarily, but too often with others.
Which is your star sign?
Are you superstitious?
Not terribly, though there are a few things, like naming the ‘Scottish Play’ or whistling in a theater that I won’t do…or try not to do, at any rate.
What did you dream to become as an adult when you were a child?
I actually–when I was very young–wanted to become a singer…though my idea of being a singer was a lot more in line with sitting on a stool and singing folk music while accompanying myself with a guitar…this was the late seventies, after all.  I afterwards went through many permutations, including architect, meteorologist(these first two died quickly when I realized the mathematics involved), lawyer, etc, before I landed on classical singer when I was 19 or so.
Which are your favorite readings?
Poetry? I love the Elizabethans.  Especially the song texts of Dowland, Campion, etc.  I am also very partial to the mid-twentieth century poetess/nutcase, Edith Sitwell. Oh yes…but my favorite poem has to be the 30-line fragment from Christopher Smart’s ‘Jubilate Agno’, I will consider my cat Jeoffry.
Which is the book you have loved the most so far?
It’s hard to say.  I am a great fan of Dickens, though I’m not sure any of his books would qualify as one of my favorites.  The same goes for P.G. Wodehouse.  I love Jane Austen, and would put her ‘Persuasion’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ on any list of favorites.  Of recent books, I’d have to say Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ is my favorite.
Which was your ambition as a child?
To grow up…I’m still hoping.
Have you ever sought revenge?
No…that’s not to say I’ve never thought about it…but somehow I’ve never sustained the necessary anger against anyone long enough to carry out any plans of revenge. That sounds a bit self-righteous, I know…but I really can’t work up the requisite bile to actually plan someone’s ‘Punishment’.
Did your family influence your choices?
Yes, of course…though the decision to be a singer was somewhat against their wishes, they have supported me in it since then, almost without question.
Was music a vocation?
If by vocation you mean a calling…then I guess so…it certainly has become a necessity for me over the years.  I always sang, as a boy, and played the clarinet in my youth.  The move from amateur to professional (or a student seeking to be a professional) musician was not very different in feel, though it certainly caused me a lot of angst when I made that decision. What’s missing in your life today?
Probably the same thing that is missing in most people’s lives at the moment…security.  The arts suffer more than other areas during periods of economic turmoil, and unusual things, like Carissimi, for instance, suffer the most of all, as they are untested, und people are unwilling to take chances on things that are untested.
The greatest disappointment?
Probably that I learned very late that I don’t always have to be right.  That has caused me to miss out on a lot of things, I think.
Which is your most cherished memory?
Christmas Mornings (not any specific one) with my family, when I was a child.
How important is money to you?
Important enough that I don’t like it when I don’t have enough to feel secure…otherwise–not a primary motivator.
Which is the item you like spending money on the most?
Books, maybe. Little luxuries… champagne, good food.
Do you collect anything?
Antiquarian books, modern art.
Do you have a recurrent dream?
The singer dream…I am engaged to jump in at the last minute in an opera that I don’t know, and they just tell me to ‘wing it’, and I spend every last second desperate looking through the score backstage, and then always wake up at the point when I actually go out on stage with no idea what I am supposed to sing.
What are you afraid of the most?
Living considerably past my usefulness.
Which is your most ambitious dream?
To someday run an opera house.
Are ideals, passions important?
Of course…without them, you’re just going through the motions. It’s trite to say, but that’s the difference between living and existing.
The moment you felt the proudest?
Pride always feels like satisfaction to me…and I’ve never been entirely satisfied with anything I’ve done…so I’ll let you know when it happens.
Your biggest challenge?
Teaching myself to sing soprano. Changing faces.
What or who makes you feel embarrassed?
Only myself…saying things I should know better than saying…I do have a faster mouth than mind sometimes.
Which is the situation you consider the most relaxing?
Being on the water, on a boat, at sunset…in summer…I hate cold weather.
Your favorite subject at school?
Favorite city?
Hard to say…I’m not really a city person.  San Francisco is the most beautiful city I know.  I had the most fun in Jackson Mississippi, however, where I got my Bachelor’s degree.  I am the most moved by Venice, especially San Marco, and evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Favorite color?
Favorite flower?
Tulips…though not red tulips, strangely enough.
The holiday or the trip you’d like to take?
I don’t even know if it exists as a holiday trip…I’d love to take a sailing cruise ( on a big enough boat that I don’t get seasick or bang my head a lot on doorways) of the ancient Greek world…in a warm month (I hate winter, remember?).  That is:  seeing all the Greek cities as they are now, of course.
Day or night?
I’m a day-person. I do my best thinking early in the morning, when no one else is awake.
Tell us your ideal day.
Mediterranean Holiday; part boat, part beach, part sight-seeing, 3 parts wonderful eating, all with loved ones.
Which is your hideaway?
My sister’s farm in Kentucky.
The film you love the most?
It’s a Wonderful Life.
Your favorite season?
Which is the place where cooking is the worst ever?
High School Cafeteria.
How would you define your relation with food ?
Friendly, passionate, if sometimes a bit obsessive.
Your favorite dish?
Steak (how banal!).
The dish you cook the best?
Chili con carne (done correctly it’s more complicated than you’d think)
Red or white wine?
What’s never missing in your refrigerator?
What’s your weakness in kitchen?
Baking…I’m not patient or exact enough…there are always baking powder issues.
What’s the soundtrack to your life?
Mountain music…not ‘Deliverance’…just traditional Southern American music…or English renaissance…they’re not as far apart as you’d think.
Your favourite singer?
Kirsten Flagstad as ‘Dido’.
What would you want someone who doesn’t know your voice to listen to?
Someone else.  HA.  No…I guess Oleum Effusum est, from the Carissimi CD.
Has being good-looking affected your singing career someway?
I don’t really think of myself as being anything other than acceptable-looking, so I don’t really know.  I guess I’ve gotten a few roles based on my looks, though the fact that I’m now well over 30 means that I DON’T get roles based on my numerical age. So it’s a double-edged sword. If you are helped by superficialities, at some point you are also going to be hurt by them.
How did your voice change through the years and how do you take care of it, choosing the roles and the repertoire to perform?
I turned down some things which were too low.  Otherwise, I just tried to sing each role the way I thought it needed to be sung…which was tiring, because I was always slightly altering my technique…not the best method of vocal maintenance…though it does improve your knowledge of voices–particularly your own.  My voice hasn’t gotten any lower as I’ve gotten older, though it does seem to be getting darker and softer in texture. I also am able to use my low range a lot more effectively…though the same could be said for singing in the high passaggio.
If you were granted the chance to chose a role, which one would it be?
Handel’s Serse…I was supposed to sing it once in concert, but got a terrible cold and had to cancel.  It was a very hard decision, and I still regret not having been able to do it.
Which is the first record you ever bought?
Brandenburg #2 and #5.
How’s your attitude towards TV ?
If it’s good, I’ll watch it, assuming I have time to let my mind power down. I love ‘The Big Bang Theory’…it reminds me a lot of my high school and college days…not that I was a physicist, of course…but many of my favorite people were and are.
Is there horror in TV?
Like Big Brother?  I think to the extent that TV reflects (through all these terrible ‘reality’ shows) the darker side of modern life…yes…it can be horrifying.
What do you do an hour prior to go on stage?
Pace around…walk off my excess nervous energy so that I’m calm when I’m actually out there.
What’s never missing in your dressing room?
Liquirizia purissima…Saila…I love it…and can’t get it outside of Italy, unfortunately. And water mixed with apple juice.
What do you think of when looking at yourself in the mirror?
That I really should be spending a bit more time in the gym.
How would you prefer to die ?
With a few days/weeks warning without too much pain.  Not messily. That, or– Sampson-like–bringing down a ton of stage equipment upon my head by the sheer power of my voice during a particularly smashing final cadenza. Though I’d rather not have to be blind and bald in order to bring it about.
Your mood at the moment?
Cautiously optimistic.
What’s your motto?
I can always improve who I am, even if I can’t change from who I am into someone else.