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Kate Royal, Self-Titled

available at Amazon
Kate Royal, Academy of St. Martin
in the Fields, E. Gardner
(released September 18, 2007)
EMI Classics 0946 3 94419 2
Kate Royal, a beautiful, 20-something London-born soprano on the cusp of a major career, made her U.S. debut in 2006, in a memorable St. Matthew Passion with the National Symphony, which Jens reviewed rather positively. Since then she has been appearing everywhere, in Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream last summer at Glyndebourne, with Toby Spence and Les Arts Florissants in Paris, with Nathan Gunn in Figaro at the Aix-en-Provence Festival this summer, and (not the best choice) on the recording of Paul McCartney's oraborio™ Ecce Cor Meum. She also signed a contract with EMI Classics, and this is her first solo CD with the label. By Royal's own admission -- George Hall's liner notes try to make sense of her rambling commentary on the choice of music -- this is not a recital program with a unifying theme. While there is much beauty to admire here, the impression of a canvas hastily dashed together from a few pretty colors is inevitable.

That being said, it can be addictive background listening, especially the lush exotica: Spanish-tinged songs by Delibes and Ravel, a set of Provençal songs by Canteloube, one of the erotic snippets from Orff's Carmina Burana, and Joaquín Rodrigo's Cuatro madrigales amatorios. An excerpt of Granados' opera Goyescas makes one want to get to know that relative rarety better, and excerpts from Anne Trulove in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress and Strauss songs give promise that she will eventually take up many roles in 20th-century opera beautifully. It is not yet a large voice, but she has vocal qualities -- clear tone, true intonation, transparency even up into the higher range -- that make for worthy listening, with this kind of repertory, as long as no virtuosic agility is called for.

It should be noted that the producer of this album, John Fraser, was nominated for a Grammy this year. The sound is beautiful, recorded at Abbey Road's Studio No. 1, especially in that it masks some of the occasionally lackluster playing from the Academy of St. Martin's in the Fields, under Edward Gardner. At the reduced price now offered at Amazon, this could be an interesting bit of ear (and eye) candy for the opera-obsessed. Kate Royal's upcoming concert schedule this year includes a North American recital tour with Roger Vignoles, sadly not on the Vocal Arts Society season. (She will be on this continent from March 28 to April 13: is it too late for someone with deep pockets to bring her to Washington?) She will return to Glyndebourne this summer, to sing Micaëla: one has to feel sorry for the Carmen who is called on to seduce Don José away from her.

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