Monday, May 16, 2011

The Real ‘Royal’ Kate

Soprano Kate Royal performs A Lesson in Love
May 20, 2011
Weill Recital Hall
Carnegie Hall, 57th Street and 7th Avenue

Forget about the former Kate Middleton. The real “Royal Kate” is British soprano Kate Royal, who winds up a busy season in New York on May 20 with her long-awaited Carnegie Hall recital debut in the intimate Weill Recital Hall. This comes on the heels of her Carnegie performance with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra last December and her Metropolitan Opera debut in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice last month.

Royal’s recital (part of her first North American tour which also includes stops in Montreal, San Francisco, Atlanta, Vancouver and Vermont) will be taken up by the entirety of her latest EMI Classics CD release, A Lesson in Love, in which she and pianist Malcolm Martineau perform a selection of 29 songs to tell the story of one woman’s journey from youth to maturity via love and betrayal. The composers, which include Schumann, Faure, Wolf, Liszt, Debussy, Ravel, Strauss, Brahms, Britten and Schubert, were personally chosen by Royal, whose acute musical intelligence ranks with her lovely singing voice and poised stage presence.

For those who want even more Kate, EMI Classics has released a DVD of last summer’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni from England’s Glyndebourne Festival, in which a luminous Royal sings Donna Elvira. The soprano spoke by phone from Montreal before her recital there about her appearances in New York, how A Lesson in Love originated and how it feels being eclipsed in Google searches for her name by the new Duchess of Cambridge.

Kevin Filipski: How does it feel that, when someone Googles “Kate Royal,” they now get information on a Kate who married into the Royal Family a few weeks ago?
Kate Royal: Well, I seemed to have been bumped down a bit, haven’t I? (laughs) I was in New York for the wedding, but I still woke up at 5:30 in the morning and watched the whole thing. I actually became far more patriotic watching it from so far away from home than I actually was before. I felt very proud while watching, it looked absolutely beautiful and I think most people got the sense that they are genuinely a happy couple.

KF: How was it making your Metropolitan Opera debut singing in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice this past month?
KR: It went great! It was a great role to start off with at the Met, since it’s not too long or strenuous. It’s an amazing place and an amazing “barn” of a hall to perform in. I was happy to be singing Gluck to start, even though it’s quite difficult and quite a stretch to be doing baroque music at the Met, since there’s a lightness to baroque that’s tough to put across in a big place, but I think we pulled it off. It was lovely to work with dancers, it was really interesting, from my point of view, it’s mainly a ballet, not that I have to dance. It was lovely to watch and to combine that with singing. I’m very interested to sing something else there, and I’m slated to return next season.

KF: When we spoke last fall, you were preparing to sing Britten’s Les Illuminations at Carnegie Hall with Orpheus, the conductor-less chamber group. How was that experience?
KR: Actually, I thoroughly enjoyed the process. In terms of doing that again (working without a conductor), it would take a lot of trust with the musicians, so I would certainly do it again but not all the time. It takes a lot to create a full democracy in music-making, but with that piece in that situation, it worked beautifully.

KF: Your current recital tour comprises a program you devised, A Lesson In Love. How did it come about?
KR: I wanted something to reflect what I do, what I love. I enjoy singing in recital, and it’s almost a separate career from singing operas. I wanted to try a concept of combining songs to create something that’s very personal to me. Obviously, the theme of love is an easy one to pick, and I wanted to create one character to sing. You usually have to create 20 separate mini-characters in a recital for each song you sing, so why not create one character through 20 songs? It’s a sung monologue, and I tried to pick songs which were written individually rather than as part of song cycles. There are well-known songs and a few less known pieces. I had the wonderful task of sifting through poetry that grabbed me, because I was focused on a performing a story that was in the first person and in a female voice. I always enjoy planning a journey to take the audience on, and doing this was a fun exercise that I think really works for me and for the audience.

KF: How will performing in a small room like the Weill Recital Hall compare with singing in a 4,000 seat “barn” like the Met?
KR: That’s the great thing about my job: you have to alter your performing style depending on where you are. A Lesson in Love was written for small audiences, and it’s difficult to create that intimate atmosphere in such a large opera house. It’s something that I enjoy doing while onstage, and I’m able to draw the audience in.

KF: A new DVD has just been released of Don Giovanni that you starred in at last summer. How do you see the visual aspect of your art in this era of social networking and other competition?
KR: I’ve watched clips of the DVD and I think that opera works fabulously on video and (director) Jonathan Kent’s idea was a very filmic one that translates very well. I think the visual has always been a huge part of my singing world, and I notice more and more while reading reviews that what performers look like, and even what they wear, are mentioned more than anything else, even in classical reviews. The media side of it has certainly changed, with a much wider audience that can watch operas live in movie theaters, which I think is a fantastic thing. The only downside might be an audience’s confusion over amplification: during a live performance, to experience the acoustic sound of an orchestra and singer is something that can never be recaptured on video.

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