Friday, 9 November 2007

Kate Royal

Emily Bray looks at the world of opera.

Princess Regent
Kate Royal: The Young Soprano’s Rise to Fame

This season she may be starring in ENO’s* production of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea, but young English soprano Kate Royal is also enjoying being crowned a potential singing sensation. She is, however, no amateur. Her trophy cabinet already boasts a healthy number of prestigious awards. The 2004 winner of both the Kathleen Ferrier and the John Christie Awards, and the 2007 recipient of the Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artists Award, she has taken leading roles in major opera companies both in the UK and abroad. She also has the claim of being Sir Paul McCartney’s soprano of choice for his recent classical cantata Ecce Cor Meum, as well as appearing for the BBC Proms.

Her self-titled debut album from EMI classics presents her credentials in 19 beautifully executed tracks, ranging from Orff’s Carmina Burana to Stravinsky's The Rake’s Progress. Conducted by a youthful Edward Gardner, and accompanied by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, this recording brings together some of England’s most illustrious performers. The result is a feast of colour and intensity which displays the beauty and imagination of some seldom recorded pieces.

The disc opens with the much abandoned Lia’s Aria from Debussy’s L’Enfant Prodigue (The Prodigal Son). From the first two glorious notes, Royal shows a masterful control and craftsmanship, tackling the trickier melodic phrases with feeling and with ease. An interesting choice for the first track of a debut album, the complex and often sparse texture could have been a bit of a gamble. There is no weakness here, however, as the unobtrusive orchestral arrangement serves only to highlight the beauty and purity of the voice.

Passion follows tenderness with Delibes’ Les Filles de Cadiz, a 19c French imitation of the Spanish Bolero. Like the famous Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen, strong, dance like rhythms underpin the folky, fiery and yet playful vocal, which glides effortlessly over the orchestra’s vibrant playing. Rubato, portemento and vibrato are all used skilfully in the interpretation of a fairly repetitious melodic line. In a performance nothing short of explosive, Royal shows her ability to tackle intensity both in the bareness and emotional tension of the previous track and the passion and vivacity of track 2.

The technical brilliance and difficulty of the first two pieces are contrasted with several gentler, understated pieces; the Bailero from Canteloube’s folk songs, In trutina from Orff’s Carmina Burana and a serene, dreamy rendition of Strauss’ Wiegenlied. Though less dexterity is required for these performances, they are implemented with musically aware self-control and skill, avoiding the trap of becoming too weighty and over-sentimental. The vocal tone remains even throughout, and the simple beauty of the melody is allowed to sing through, enveloping the listener in a haze of sound.

The bulk of the final half of the disk is devoted to Spanish songs, by Granados and Rodrigo. It is really very difficult to find anything at all at fault with this album; but if there is one thing, it is the similarity of the songs in this section. Quejas, o la maja y el ruisenõr, ?Con qué la lavaré? and Vos me matasteis are charmingly and proficiently sung, but are a little too similar when followed one by the other.

The last two short songs in this section ?De dónde venís, amore? and De los álamos vengo, madre raise the tempo sufficiently to provide a high-spirited and once again excellently executed climax before the album closes with the anonymous folk song The Sprig of Thyme. The acapella beginning perfectly reflects the origins of the song, and the combination of orchestral and simple harp accompaniment blend together to create a blissful texture, under, of course, another beautiful vocal interpretation.

Kate Royal’s greatest strength is the ability to produce a warm, sweet, effortless sound even in the extremities of her register, with an impressively even tone throughout. There is also a sense of the dramatic in her voice, but it is complemented by a sincerity which makes you believe everything you hear.

This album is definitely a must have for those with an interest in Classical, and particularly Operatic singing. With not a trace of crossover in sight, she gives a timeless interpretation, supported and enhanced by a perceptive accompaniment. But this release is not simply for the classical purist. Her vocal beauty and skill will appeal to listeners from across genres, and those who have yet to be won over to Classical repertoire may find themselves pleasantly surprised.
*English National Opera

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