Meeting, Marriage and Then Trouble
By ZACHARY WOOLFE
When you consider that opera and art song tend to reach their most unforgettable heights and depths at moments of vulnerability and tragedy, it is no surprise that the final part of the soprano Kate Royal’s concert at Weill Recital Hall on Friday was the strongest.
Her ambitious program, a kind of original song cycle, was entitled “A Lesson in Love,” and Ms. Royal divided it into four themed sections: Waiting, the Meeting, the Wedding and Betrayal. (Not the most optimistic trajectory, but so it goes.) While she conveyed a sweet hopefulness in the first two and a sense of serene happiness in the third, it was when heartbreak was her subject that she was truly memorable.
Ms. Royal, who made her Metropolitan Opera debut last month as a sympathetic Euridice in Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice,” is an elegant, thoughtful singer. In “Orfeo” and at her recital, her voice was expressive, with an attractively impulsive, almost tremulous quality that could turn to edginess under pressure. Her phrasing was subtle and her diction excellent in English and German, if less so in French.
It was a thorough recital (29 songs!) if not exactly a wide-ranging one: the pieces were all in a uniformly, warmly Romantic idiom, drawn mostly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Moreover, Ms. Royal and her sensitive accompanist, Christopher Glynn, had the songs flow directly into one another. While this approach was seemingly meant to further the narrative momentum and immerse the audience in the mood, in the first half of the recital it made the songs blur together, dulling their impact.
But the second half felt more varied and specific as the emotional content of the works matured and then darkened. The calm clarity of Duparc’s “Extase” suited Ms. Royal perfectly, as did Fauré’s “Donc, Ce Sera par un Clair Jour d’Été.” She gave a stunning rendition of Britten’s “O Waly, Waly”; its combination of pain and hushed serenity seemed written for her voice, which did just what was indicated by the final line, when love “fades away like morning dew.”
Sometimes her high notes floated out bell-like, but more often they narrowed and whitened. And a few of the songs, like Wolf’s “Verschling’ der Abgrund” and Strauss’s “Hochzeitlich Lied,” wanted a larger, fuller voice. Ms. Royal occasionally seemed pushed to her vocal limits, though she cannily used that sense of effortfulness to dramatic purpose: it can be useful to sound in extremis when, as in the Wolf, you are calling for your ex-lover’s death.
Ms. Royal applied the neat touch of finishing where she had begun, with William Bolcom’s simple yet sophisticated “Waitin’.” Opening the recital, the song was about nervous anticipation; by the end, it had transformed into wistful resignation. One guess as to which iteration was the more affecting.