For a young soprano, Kate Royal is doing well. Too well, according to some, the implication being that she has been pushed too fast too soon; not enough attention to diction, according to others, who believe her sparkling voice alone is not enough.
The truth is, no soprano at this stage of a career can be expected to sing with the imagination of an experienced storyteller. Even her staunchest admirers would admit that Royal is “work in progress”. It’s just that, in her case, the “work” has so much more potential than all the other young sopranos on the block. Her voice – a tender, lyric middle-voice with a vibrant upper extension – and what she does with it are what really count.
With a heavy-duty Schumann first half, followed by lighter selections of Brahms and Wolf, it quickly became clear that Royal does not yet “do” depth of emotion – unlike Roger Vignoles, whose accompaniments suggested realms of thought and feeling beyond Royal’s compass.
This programme was a more truthful measure of her qualities than her high-fashion Poppea, currently running at English National Opera. Those costumes would not have been out of place, however, for Wolf’s kittenish settings, notably the 10th song from the Italienisches Liederbuch, the teasing twists of which Royal negotiated with charm.
If there was a theme to these and the four Mörike settings that followed, it was the innocence of young love and the blossom of spring – a world of impulse that Royal has no trouble communicating, even when, as in “Verborgenheit”, the rapture implies the threat of pain.
Her Schumann is where the “work” is in need of most “progress”: not in terms of diction, judging by Royal’s rippling succession of rolled “r”s in “Lied eines Schmiedes”,
nor of rhythmic purchase, her command of which illuminated “Die Sennin”. But whenever Schumann lapses into mournful melancholy, which is often, Royal is lost. In 10 years’ time, perhaps, she will return to the death-wish depression of “Der schwere Abend” and tell us more.