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CD Feature/ Kate Royal: "Kate Royal"

img  Tobias

Can things really be this easy? It was only at the age of 15, that someone suggested singing classical music to a girl who had grown up to the songs of Stevie Wonder and David Bowie. Just a few years later, this girl would win the Kathleen Ferrier competition, meet for coffee with Sir Simon Rattle, record with Sir Paul McCartney and sign a contract with one of the most respected labels in the business, EMI Classics. Now everyone needs a lucky break and Kate Royal is the first to admit she has enjoyed her share of good fortune. And yet this debut album comes along so effortlessly and full of contageous enthusiasm that there can hardly be a doubt that she would have made it no matter what. No wonder everyone on the opera scene is talking about her as the next sensation.

With big promise come big expectations, but at least Kate Royal can claim she has tried fulfilling them within her own responsability. In the different interviews she has been asked to give after the release of her first solo disc, she has always maintained that she has been involved in every single aspect of the album. From the choice of reprtoire to the photoshoot for the stylish and elegant booklet artwork, every decision has needed her approval, every line of text her signature. If this work carries nothing but her name in its title, then it is not because she wasn't creative enough to come up with something more imaginative, but because it really constitutes a description of her past, present and future as a singer.

Consequently, „Kate Royal“ covers every aspect of her art. It highlights material from the first opera she ever went to see (Stravinsky's „The Rake's Progress“), a lot of French composers and German Lieder, as well as a brief excursion into folk territory with the purity of „The Sprig of Thyme“. This, of course, is not necessarily something out of the ordinary in itself. Most artists conceptualise their musical introductions as displays of their diversity, as portraits of their possible potentials. What differentiates Royal's approach from those of her contemporaries is how organically she knits these patches into a soft and seemless quilt, which becomes her perfectly and naturally.

Asked to comment on this breezing coherency, she says: „These are very different composers, but similar sound worlds“. It is a highly unusual view of the world for a classical artist and a striking opposition to either purely intellectual or excluisvely emotional programing concepts. At the same time, this timbral thinking immediately marks her as a special voice on the scene. Indeed, all pieces share a comon aesthetic, a joint textural feel. Which is why her startling rendition of Canteloubes' „Bailero“, which she performs like a single, fluent movement and her tender „In Trutina“ from Orff's „Carmina Burana“ sound like brother and sister. It is also why the romantic lullaby of Strauss' „Wiegenlied“ and Debussy's „L'enfant prodigue“ could have been scored by one and the same person. Nationalities, schools, centuries, they bear no relevance here.

The other important reason for the flow of the album is Kate Royal's respect to the original context of the track she is interpreting. While most singers create a rift between their recitals (which they devise as spectacular shows of virtuosity) and their operatic work (which needs to be integrated into a much larger, collaborational effort), Royal never lets go of the connection between the two. Not once does she coax the orchestra of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Edward Gardiner into cheap extravaganzas or over-the-top crescendos and her voice remains true to the text. And yet, even without any popular concessions, „Les Filles de Cadix“, a song about Spanish beauties watching out for boys, retains its girlish charm, „No Word from Tom“ from „The Rake's Progress“ its desperate tone. Thanks to this stance, which only at first sight comes across as reservation, „Kate Royal“ is a disc of a piece, which grows with every listen.

So yes, everything about this release seems easy and this, of course, is because Kate Royal has rightly chosen not to pretend to be someone she isn’t. One should not see the diversity of her album as coquetery or as exhibitionism – even though there is definitely a fair amount of ambition hidden underneath the surface. Rather, listeners are offered the unique chance of hearing her biggest goal become reality: To make the listener feel what she feels. This may well be the hardest thing in showbusiness and if it works as well as it does here, on a debut, then the big expectation we mentioned before are certainly justified.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: EMI Records

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