Will Crutchfield spent his teens as a vocal coach and rehearsal pianist, made his name as a writer and musicologist in the mid-1980’s (becoming the youngest music critic in the history of The New York Times), and returned to his theater roots in the mid-1990’s to conduct opera. After initial conducting successes with productions in small companies and conservatories, Crutchfield was named to two positions: Director of Opera for the Caramoor International Music Festival (1997-present) and Music Director of the Opera de Colombia in Bogota (1999-2005). At these two theaters he built his style, which the Financial Times called “a fine balance of bravado, intensity, sensitivity and scholarly savoir-faire,” in cycles of standard repertory classics as well as pioneering revivals of less familiar works.
Crutchfield has accepted guest engagements in several theaters at home and abroad, including The Canadian Opera Company (Tancredi with Ewa Podles), The Washington Opera (Giulio Cesare with Hei-Kyung Hong), The Minnesota Opera (I Capuleti e i Montecchi with Sumi Jo and Vivica Genaux; La Traviata with Judith Howarth), the Baltimore Opera (La Cenerentola and Werner Herzog’s production of Die Zauberflöte), Florida Grand Opera (Don Pasquale), L’Opéra Français de New York (Gluck’s Pélérins de la Mècque), the Mark Morris Dance Group (Dido and Aeneas), Wolf Trap Opera (La Finta Giardiniera), the State Theatre Pretoria (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) and the Orquesta Filarmonica de la Gran Canaria (Norma). In 2006, he began a long-term relationship with the Polish National Opera in Warsaw, beginning with productions of Tancredi, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Lucia di Lammermoor, and Guillaume Tell.
In reviews of the celebrated Caramoor revivals – alongside praise for the musical interpretation – the press has consistently recognized the qualities of the rare operas themselves more positively than has been the case in productions elsewhere. The New York Times, reviewing the production of La Donna del Lago that inaugurated the series, discerned “a palpable conviction that Rossini’s serious operas are not static vehicles for elaborate vocal display, but elegant and humane musical dramas.” According to The Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Crutchfield brought his sure sense of bel canto style to bear upon Lucrezia Borgia, and the semi-staged concert version at Caramoor’s Venetian Theater was both delightful and thought-provoking.” Subsequent revivals of Bellini’s Il Pirata, Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra and Otello, Handel’s Deidamia, Gluck’s Paride ed Elena and Donizetti’s Élisabeth, a lost opera whose autograph manuscript Crutchfield himself discovered and reconstructed have been highly acclaimed. In 2008 Caramoor presented two classics in new critical editions supervised by Philip Gossett: Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, the latter in its rarely-heard original version, composed for the Imperial Theatre of St. Petersburg at the height of Verdi’s career. Previously, Bel Canto at Caramoor presented the first American performance of Bellini’s La Sonnambula in the new Ricordi critical edition and the composer’s original keys, an uncut Traviata based on period performance practice, and the infrequently produced treasures I Puritani by Bellini and Tancredi by Rossini.
Crutchfield has also been involved in training the next generation of singers. He prefers to work repeatedly with young artists he believes in so that the process can develop from production to production. He served on the faculties of all three New York conservatories (Juilliard, Manhattan and Mannes) and he continues to devote the summer months to extensive training programs at Caramoor. Some of the singers with whose debuts and early careers he has been associated include: Vivica Genaux, Nancy Herrera, Marguerite Krull, Bruce Fowler, Daniel Mobbs, Georgia Jarman, Patricia Risley, Yegishe Manucharyan, Olga Makarina, Kate Aldrich and Alexandra Deshorties. An often-noted component of Crutchfield’s research, as of his practical work with singers, has been the recovery and development of the art of ornamental improvisation.
Notwithstanding his concentration on opera, Crutchfield has also led symphonic repertory including works of Mahler, Strauss, Bartok, Beethoven, Britten, Schubert and Mendelssohn with various orchestras in the U.S. and Latin America. He has also remained active as a pianist, and his speaking voice is familiar to audiences who have heard his frequent intermission broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera. Crutchfield is currently completing a book on performance practice in Italian opera.