A LESSON IN LOVE • Kate Royal (sop); Malcom Martineau (pn) • EMI 50999 9 48536 2 (65:02 Text and Translation)
Songs by BOLCOM, SCHUMANN, WOLF, LISZT, DEBUSSY, SCHUBERT, TOSTI, CANTELOUBE, BRIDGE, COPLAND, BEACH, RAVEL, FAURÉ, R. STRAUSS, DUPARC, BRAHMS, BRITTEN, HUGHES, ANON
This is the third recital disc on EMI for emerging young artist Kate Royal. The British lyric soprano recently made her Metropolitan OperaRead more debut as Euridice in Christoph Gluck’s opera and has also recently finished a brief recital tour of North America before beginning a maternity leave.
The name of the CD, A Lesson in Love, gives us some indication of the theme to be presented here. On her promotional video for the disc Royal says she has attempted to create a kind of mini-opera, one that tells a continuous story of a young girl’s first experience with love. The sections are titled Waiting, The Meeting, The Wedding, and Betrayal, encompassing some 28 songs in a variety of styles and ranging from early 19th-century Franz Schubert to 21st-century William Bolcom, whose Waitin’ appears both first and last in the set. Apparently, the young girl is not so lucky in love her first time out, being betrayed and ultimately rejected by her lover, but the working-through of all these emotions provides the singer ample opportunity to display a variety and range of vocal colors. Royal’s selections include only appropriate poetry written in the first-person singular voice of a young woman.
A problem with such narrative recitals is that they are often largely wasted on the audience. Most people, I suspect, like me buy the disc or go to the recital to hear the singing and don’t bother too much with the words. We don’t care to hear a monologue in recitative but instead some nice music. Royal invites us to sit down with a glass of wine and get into the story. The songs are in German, French, and English and some are difficult to understand, so most of us would need to follow along in the booklet. Any recital of 28 songs (plus the repeat) by the same artist can become a little wearing and the listener may not want to hear it all straight through, but sample selectively.
Royal has managed to include several recital favorites within her theme, including Gretchen am Spinnrade and Rastlose Liebe by Schubert, Robert Schumann’s Lied der Braut Nos. 1 and 2, and various Lieder by Hugo Wolf, Johannes Brahms, and Richard Strauss. There is a pretty song in French, Pour un baiser!, by Paolo Tosti, and Amy Beach’s Ah, Love But a Day in English. Royal even works in a rather nice version of Danny Boy, but the sentiments expressed seem rather a stretch for a girl who’s gotten dumped by her cheating lover.
Royal sings all of these songs well, in a quite enjoyable lyric voice that gains a bit of steel when she pushes to top notes. She expresses the young girl’s emotive journey with consummate skill and I suspect she enjoyed the challenge of making all of these songs come alive for the listener. A couple of minor caveats: Royal sometimes tends to get a bit over-emphatic, losing the melodic line, and some of the songs in English are sung in rather operatic English. Royal’s accompanist, Malcolm Martineau, is simply the best I have heard in quite a long time. He never puts a foot wrong and is a full partner to the singer, adding greatly to the success of the recital. Booklet notes are in German, French, and English with texts provided in original language and English translation. A pretty good bit of singing and a worthy disc even if you don’t really need A Lesson in Love.