I bought myself a ticket to Kate Royal's Carnegie Hall recital as an end-of-semester treat; not only was I not disappointed in my first hearing of her live, but I found myself pleasantly surprised by how well the evening's concept worked. The program followed closely the content of her latest album, which she introduces here:
I admit, I was more than slightly skeptical about the premise of a pastiche song cycle of sorts. I discussed this with a nice older lady afterwards (Carnegie Hall made the evening part of their "Salon Encores" series, which gives everyone a free glass of wine and a chance to chat about the program; very nice) who confessed to similar doubts about the attempted integration of different languages, eras, and cultures into a single narrative. But in the event, Royal won me (and my conversational partner) over: she sang with passion and dramatic nuance. Ably accompanied by Christopher Glynn, she varied the pacing of transitions between songs, as well. Sometimes she paused to savor expectation or satisfied longing; at other times the intensity of passion hurtled us from one vignette into the next. One such change made for one of the evening's most successful moments: a breathless transition from Hugo Wolf's "Erstes Liebeslied eines Mädchens" into Schubert's "Gretchen am Spinnrade." Oh yes, she did.
This brings me to my favorite surprise of the evening: as designed and given by Royal, the recital was entirely frank about sexual desire and sexual passion. Yes, of course, so are the Lieder themselves. But I am sure I cannot be the only one to have experienced how context and delivery can obscure these Romantic or fin-de-siècle sensibilities, rather than exploring and exulting in them. Royal triumphantly did the latter. Schumann's "Jemand," for example, and Liszt's "Es Muss Ein Wunderbares Sein" were both warm and eager instead of vaguely dreamy. In the intimate space of the Weill Recital Hall, her lyric soprano was flexible and expressive. Her diction was admirable; I left my texts and translations virtually untouched on my lap (I did struggle a bit with her French, but my own is far from perfect.) Inhabiting the persona of a young woman experiencing love for the first time, Royal charted a tempestuous emotional journey movingly. The different ways in which she sang William Bolcom's "Waitin' " at the beginning and close of the cycle were wonderfully illustrative of the character's transformation. As an encore, Royal gave "Danny Boy," in a very lovely arrangement by Christopher Glynn, with straightforward warmth and most definitely without sentimental wallowing. Throughout, Royal was a thoroughly engaged and engaging performer: sometimes almost dancing with delight, sometimes withdrawn in blissful or bitter interiority, pleading with the beloved, pleading with the audience to respond to her. She radiated love throughout.