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The duo recital ought to be all gain. The audience gets two singers for the price of one. The singers can play complementary personalities. Everyone gets the chance to hear a repertoire that is as rich as it is neglected.
That was how it seemed on Monday as the soprano Kate Royal and mezzo Christine Rice began their morning recital at the Edinburgh International Festival. Both are sufficiently well known to pull a discerning crowd, but each retains the bloom of youth – as if Fiordiligi and Dorabella had somehow reached early maturity.
Unlike the two sisters in Così fan tutte Royal and Rice know how to harmonise their endeavours: the striking feature of this recital was their intuitive dovetailing of vocal lines, for which Roger Vignoles at the piano must take equal credit. Nowhere was this more obvious than in Gounod’s “D’un coeur qui t’aime”, the seductive cantilena of which lets each voice set out its stall in a mood of religious contemplation before gently commingling, an apt metaphor for the barely suppressed amorousness of Racine’s poetry.
In a selection from Dvorák’s Moravian Duets, by contrast, it was the way each singer provided a foil for the other that gave the music its bite, Royal’s palpitating heart contrasting with Rice’s quieter passion. As in Mendelssohn’s “On Wings of Song”, defined by Royal’s aristocratic line and Rice’s dark colouring, their performance told us why these were the pop songs of their day.
As the recital went on, however, it became clear that, rather than striking sparks off one another, each singer was sublimating a degree of individuality. Only in their solo selections did the shackles begin to fall – less obviously in Rice’s Brahms Zigeunerlieder, the radiant glow of “Rote Abendwolken” clouded elsewhere by over-generalised sentiment and a refusal to let the voice lean into the gypsy melody.
Royal has star quality – manifested not just in a disarming smile but her ability to express uninhibited emotion through the hyper-disciplined medium of a melodic arc. Brahms’s “Die Mainacht” could have been written for her ecstatic top register: under the naked spotlight of the recital hall Royal seems uniquely qualified to express the positivity of life.