Thursday, December 2, 2010

Orpheus and Kate Royal

Photo by Esther Haase/EMI Classics
Orpheus with Soprano Kate Royal
December 4, 2010
Works by Barber, Britten and Beethoven
Carnegie Hall, 57th Street and 7th Avenue

Rising British soprano Kate Royal last sang in New York nearly three years ago, so it’s about time that she’s returning to our fair city to perform Britten’s song cycle Les Illuminations with the conductorless chamber orchestra Orpheus this Saturday at Carnegie Hall, also the site of her New York debut in 2006 when she sang Paul McCartney’s most recent oratorio.

For those local fans who want to hear (and see) even more of Royal, she’s making her Met Opera debut next April in a revival of Mark Morris’ staging of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, followed by a May 20 recital at Weill Recital Hall comprising songs from her upcoming CD, A Lesson in Love. So mark those calendars!

While in the midst of Orpheus rehearsals, Royal discussed Britten, Gluck and her new recording.

Kevin Filipski: Is this your first time singing with an orchestra that has no conductor?
Kate Royal: Yes, it is! I was quite apprehensive at first, to be honest, but it’s been very interesting seeing how they work as a group. I’ve never experienced that kind of musical democracy. Without a conductor, it keeps you on your toes. It’s direct communication and direct music making, which I love.

KF: Have you sung Britten’s
Les Illuminations before?
KR: No I haven’t. It’s quite a difficult piece for people to understand—the poems are in French, the music was written by an Englishman, and goodness knows what it’s all about. There are some very strange images, so it’s difficult to explain what it means. It’s really a kind of a circus that Rimbaud’s describing throughout the piece, with praise for beauty and for the male form especially. The poems are quite erotic: suddenly, they’re brash, then tender. There‘s absolutely every emotion under the sun. It’s quite a challenge for me to try and communicate to the audience and even to the orchestra: getting them excited about the words I’m singing will inform their playing. I like not knowing the piece, which gives me a clean slate and keeps any thing from influencing my interpretation.

KF: Have you sung Britten’s songs or operas often?
KR: I sang Helena (in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and the Governess (in The Turn of the Screw), along with almost all of his songs and song cycles, so I know his work very well. Les Illuminations is different in that he set poems in a language that he didn’t speak. There are certain phrases where the setting is not how it would be if it was spoken, so there are a few adjustments to make while singing. My priority is communicating the words—he was obviously inspired by the words, which made him write the piece. It’s all about making the songs work, since they’re not so accessible. I think that musically, if you’ve never heard it before and you’re hearing it completely cold, it’s challenging, no doubt about that. But there’s a vibrancy to the work, since the songs are so out there.

KF: Your new CD comes out in the spring. What’s it’s about?
KR: It’s a lieder recital called A Lesson in Love. I basically created a song cycle with 15 or 16 composers in 4 or 5 languages, to tell a story, a “mini-opera,” I suppose. It’s 70 minutes long, a CD length song-cycle, and it has some pieces that you might recognize by Schubert, Britten Brahms and Wolf, along with less familiar stuff by Amy Beach. It’s an exciting new project for me, and I‘ll be performing it next spring here in New York. I like to record things that are new to me, and I want to put my stamp on certain kinds of music. My intention is to inject more drama into and shine a light on these songs.

KF: Your Met Opera debut also arrives in the spring in
Orfeo ed Euridice. Have you sung a lot of baroque opera?
KR: I’ve sung a lot of Handel, not so much Gluck, but I feel comfortable in that musical area. The wonderful thing for me is the major dance element to the piece, since I’m a big dance fan and a big Mark Morris fan. These music-dance collaborations, which seem to be happening more and more now, are just wonderful, as we are sharing these amazing pieces of music with each other and the audience.

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