Thursday, March 27, 2008

From Mozart to McCartney

Soprano Kate Royal
The Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street
March 30, 2008

British soprano Kate Royal
When Kate Royal makes her New York recital debut at The Frick Collection on March 30, it will actually be her second performance in the city. In November 2006, she was the soprano soloist at Carnegie Hall for the U.S. premiere of Sir Paul McCartney’s oratorio Ecce Cor Meum, a memorable concert at which she also sang a handful of McCartney’s songs in new orchestrations. For those who weren’t there, the new EMI Classics DVD of the world premiere of the oratorio is a must; Royal’s poised, emotional singing is the highlight of the event.

The 28-year-old British soprano has it all: a versatile voice, striking looks (always good for marketing in the increasingly marginalized field of classical music), and a debut EMI Classics CD that shows off her wide-ranging musical interests, from French mélodies and German lieder to Spanish songs and folk tunes. Royal recently spoke about music from her home in London.

Kevin Filipski: Paul McCarney was in attendance when you sang his oratorio at Carnegie Hall. Were you nervous?
Kate Royal: Not really, because we had already done the world premiere in London. The concert actually went by in a haze. It’s sort of strange that I’ve spent a lot of time in New York but I haven’t sung much onstage there yet.

KF: Your upcoming recital program is certainly eclectic, with French music by Claude Debussy and Joseph Canteloube, Spanish works by Enrique Granados and Joaquin Rodrigo, and German songs by Richard Strauss.
KR: Well, a lot of it is similar to the stuff that’s on my CD; I wanted to perform live some of the music that I’ve recorded. For that CD, I specifically sought out pieces that were composed for piano but also have orchestral arrangements, so I can experience singing both ways. They’re definitely quite different experiences. The Strauss songs, for example, work equally well with piano or with an orchestra. I enjoy finding lesser-known repertoire to sing. I don’t come from the obvious classical background -- I wasn’t brought up listening to operas – so I’m learning as I go along what audiences prefer. I also hope to introduce new works to the audience. It’s fun hunting down unusual things.

KF: What kind of music did you grow up listening to, if not classical?
KR: Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire. My dad wrote pop songs and was into pop music, so I grew up listening to that. My mum was a dancer, and I heard what was playing in her tap-dance classes. Jazz-based music was what I started singing. It took a few years before I found out what my voice was all about, and it wasn’t jazz and cabaret, but classical.

KF: When you sang McCartney’s oratorio at Carnegie, you also sang several of his songs, including a few that were not big hits. How did you approach those?
KR: I tried to approach them in a straight classical way. I didn’t want to adjust my voice, so I spoke with him beforehand about what my voice was, and he explained to me that he didn’t want a big, wobbly, “operatic” sound. We found a good compromise, I think. It’s such wonderful music, and he can write melodies like nobody else.

KF: Aside from McCartney, have you sung a lot of music by British composers?
KR: I’ve sung a lot of Benjamin Britten's song cycles, and in a lot of his operas. I also sang the role of Miranda last year in Thomas Adés’ The Tempest, and I’ve sung a fair bit of English songs. I loved doing The Tempest, but I was glad I didn’t have to do the world premiere [in 2004]; Adés was changing it all the time before the premiere, so by the time I sang it, at least I had something to go by. And he was conducting, so that helped, too.

KF: Do you have plans for your next recording and future live performances?
KR: Yes. We’ll record the next CD at the end of the year, 20th century arias by Britten and other British and American composers. It will be fun looking for hidden gems; I’m currently wading through scores and seeing what I can come up with. Also, I'll be singing Ilya in a European tour of Mozart’s Idomeneo, and Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen at Glyndebourne this summer. I’m really very lucky that the music I love to sing is the music my voice loves to sing!

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