Sunday, March 23, 2008

US recital debut: English soprano Kate Royal

English soprano Kate Royal makes her US recital debut this Friday night (March 28, 2008) at Spivey Hall. Ms. Royal has generated significant excitement among fans of great singing, principally through her appearances in opera at the Glyndebourne Festival, the Paris Opera, the Royal Opera Covent Garden and the English National Opera, as well as in concert appearances with the Berlin Philharmonic and at the BBC Proms in London. She's given recitals in London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Cologne. I first knew of her from her Hyperion recording of Schumann Lieder with Graham Johnson, and then received from her London management an early copy of her debut CD for EMI Classics, for which she now records exclusively.

After listening to the EMI sessions for about 20 minutes, I picked up the phone, called the UK and invited her to sing in recital here. It's rare that I act so directly (almost impulsively) to engage a new artist, but such artful, gorgeous, beautifully intelligent, nuanced and expressive singing is not commonplace!

Thus I'm proud her North American recital tour begins here at Spivey Hall. Ms. Royal will perform with the excellent pianist Roger Vignoles. From Atlanta they go cross-continent via the Northeast (New York's Frick Collection, Middlebury College and Montreal) to Vancouver, British Columbia and Berkeley, California.

Their program focuses on Spanish songs of Rodrigo and Granados, selections from Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne, three of Debussy's exquisite Cinq poemes de Baudelaire, and to close, a generous offering of Lieder by Richard Strauss, including the Mädchenblumen (Maiden-Flowers), Opus 22, as well as "Einerlei," "Ich wollt ein Sträusslein binden" and "Als mir dein Lied erklang."

One of my duties at Spivey Hall is proofing every program book we publish. There is a vast amount of detailed information presented in program books, especially in those of vocal recitals, for which we always strive to include the original texts and translations (and for chamber music and piano recitals, program notes). Plus there are always the bios of the artists, which artists and managements submit in various degrees of correctness and consistency when it comes to spellings of institutions, musicians and work names, presented in about a dozen languages, for which legitimate variants exist.

This is detailed and highly time-consuming work. Thankfully I don't do it alone -- Sue Volkert and Nick Jones are my valiant comrades in preparing the books, shepherding them through their various versions of edits and more edits, week after week -- but ultimately I have to sign off on them...which is why, on a Sunday afternoon (Easter Sunday, no less), I've just spent three hours poring over four program books.

I do this -- we do this -- because reading the program books is a significant dimension of our audiences' experience when they come here to listen, and making that connection between artist and audience through the performance of fine music is what Spivey Hall is all about. And I tend to read and edit best when it's quiet, people are gone and the phone isn't ringing.

There are times I rant and rave about editing program books, and curse it as an onerous obligation -- there's always so much in addition to this work I could be doing. But more often, reading the material and thinking about the program selections gets me in the mood for the music we're about to hear.

I've just had such an experience, both in recalling and eagerly anticipating the beauty of the Strauss songs. I applaud Ms. Royal for her selections -- not only are they likely to illustrate her artisty to great effect, but the Mädchenblumen, in particular, are to my way of thinking perfectly appropriate for springtime. The German poetry is by Felix Ludwig Julius Dahn, and Ms. Royal's management has kindly supplied (and secured rights to) translations by Emily Ezust, which read naturally, easily, clearly and fresh air.

The songs and their texts are wonderfully evocative -- and indeed timely, since now in Atlanta, even after damaging tornados last weekend and the ferociously heavy rains, it's getting warm, and the trees, the bushes and the flowers are starting to bloom. Spring really is in the air, so these songs, even though they're not about spring flowers, per se, will nonetheless be sung at an opportune moment. Alas, my blog program apparently won't cooperate in listing parallel columns of original texts and translations, but here, at least, is the English. Read for yourself, and see if this doesn't get you in the mood for spring.

Richard Strauss
Op. 22 (Felix Ludwig Julius Dahn)

Kornblumen (1888)

Cornflowers I call these figures
that gently, with blue eyes,
preside quietly and modestly,
placidly drinking the dew of peace
from their own pure souls,
communicating with everything that is near,
unconscious of the precious sensitivity
that they have received from
the hand of God.
We felt so close to you,
as if you were going through a field of crops
through which the breath of evening blew,
full of pious quietude and full of mildness.

Mohnblumen (1888)

They are poppies, those round,
red-blooming, healthy ones
that bloom and bake in the summer
and are always in a cheery mood,
good and happy as a king,
their souls never tired of dancing;
they weep beneath their smiles
and seem born only
to tease the cornflowers;
yet nevertheless,
the softest, best hearts often hide
among the climbing ivy of jests;
God knows one would wish to
suffocate them with kisses
were one not so afraid
that, embracing the hoyden,
would spring up into a full blaze
and go up in flames.

Epheu (1886–8)

But ivy is what I call that maiden
with soft words,
with the simple, bright hair,
gently waving brown about her,
with brown, soulful doe’s eyes,
who so often stands in tears,
in her tears simply
without strength and
unadorned with secret
yet with an inexhaustible, deep
true inner sentience
that under her own power she can
never yank herself up by the roots;
such are born to twine
lovingly about another life:
upon her first love
she rests her entire life’s fate,
for she is counted among those
rare flowers,
those that only blossom once.

Wasserrose (1886–8)
Water Lily

Do you know the Water Lily,
fairy-like and celebrated in legend?
It waves its colourless,
transparent head
on an ethereal, slender stem,
and it blooms on a reedy pond in a wood;
protected by the lonely swan
that circles round it,
Sit opens only to the
whose silver gleam it
Thus it blooms, the magical
sister of the stars,
desired by the dreamy,
dark moth
which yearns for it from afar on
the edge of the pond,
and never reaches it for all its
Water Lily is my name for the
raven-haired maiden with
alabaster cheeks,
with deep foreboding thoughts
in her eyes,
as if she were a ghost
imprisoned on earth.
Her speech is like the silver
rippling of water,
her silence like the foreboding
stillness of a moonlit night;
she seems to exchange glances
with the stars
who she understands because
their natures are the same;
you can never tire of looking
into her eyes
surrounded by long, silken
and, as if bewitched by their
blessed grey,
you believe all fanciful dreams
about fairies to be true.

Dahn's poetry inspired Strauss to write some glorious music. I have high hopes for this Friday, and urge everyone who loves great singing to hear Kate Royal, either here at Spivey Hall, or elsewhere on her Spring 2008 Recital Tour, for I expect it will be a most memorable experience.


Blogger Sherryl said...

Sam,your description of how you chose to present Kate Royal's North American debut inspires me to drive 90 minutes north to hear her April 6 recital in Vancouver BC. Before I retired from Spivey Hall I was astonished by the number of Spivey Hall patrons who traveled long hours to hear great music, driving from five states and 31 Georgia counties! Now that I live in Bellingham WA, I truly understand their motivation. There is nothing quite so thrilling as experiencing great artistry in Spivey's exquisite acoustics. Thanks for the heads-up on a wonderful recitalist.
Sherryl Nelson

3:56 PM  
Blogger Spivey Hall said...

Of all of life's great passions, there's nothing quite like the passion for great singing, once the bug has bitten, eh?? There is good singing, and then there is truly EXCELLENT singing, and until you've had a good dose of the latter, it's hard to appreciate what rapture and excitement it can create. There's so much BAD singing in the world, too many people are put off by the idea of hearing a singer in recital. But with these artists, it's generally ecstasy of an vastly higher order. Our Spivey Hall vocal recital fans are possibly our most deeply committed and loyal patrons -- like you, they really DO drive from great distances -- and they're generally among our most rapt, knowledgeable and attentive audiences, too. And YOU got them going! After all the celebrated international singers you've triumphantly introduced to metro-Atlanta and Southeastern audiences via recitals at Spivey Hall [including Olga Borodina, Bryn Terfel, Karita Mattila, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Renee Fleming, Thomas Quasthoff, and Anne Sofie von Otter, to name JUST a few ;-) ], I'll be keenly interested to hear your assessment of Kate Royal. In any case, I hope you'll feel the 90-minute drive each way will have been worthwhile. Though I envy you your idyllic existence in beautiful Bellingham WA, the compensating benefit of living in Morrow GA (only...ahem...slightly less picturesque than your towering mountains, expansive ocean views, and lush greenery) is that I only have to drive **5 minutes** to hear the likes of Kate Royal at Spivey Hall (so there!). We'll have to swap notes in a post-April-6th debriefing. Thank you, Sherryl, for establishing Spivey Hall as a destination for the world's best singers -- and, as always, thank you, acoustician Rein Pirn, and thank you, Walter & Emilie Spivey!

4:41 PM  
Blogger MapleMama said...


We are greatly looking forward to presenting Kate and Roger tomorrow night! The anticipationg of a warm evening of luxurious song is just what we as these bitter northeast winds continue to blow.

I will think of you as I thumb through our program book; which I manage here at Middlebury. Your writing of "various degrees of correctness and consistency" made me smile; as I've often cursed a bio full of errors, or texts and translations only separated by a few flicks of the space bar (has no one else heard of columns, tables, or the like?)

Best wishes from Vermont!
-Allison Coyne Carroll
Middlebury College Performing Arts Series.

P.S. I am sure Paul would want me to pass along his regards as well!

1:11 PM  
Blogger Spivey Hall said...

Allison, thanks for your comment -- I hope you enjoyed Kate Royal and Roger Vignoles as much in Middlebury as we did in Morrow! They got a nice notice (perhaps you've seen) from Allan Kozinn of The New York Times for their Frick Collection recital, and now I expect they're enjoying similar success out West.

Ah, editing and publishing program books...a very special calling, is it not?!? Maybe we need to convene artist managers and program book editors at an Arts Presenters conference sometime, to express our needs and air our grievances! But there's as much turnover with the artist managements as there can be on presenters' staffs...thus I'm more or less resigned to the reality it will be a never-ending effort -- to borrow a phrase from Italian labor unions, "lotta continua"!

BTW, ever seen Harry Shaw's Punctuate It Right! -- a very handy little volume that answers all sorts of niggling, tricky questions that seem to crop up when editing program books? I think it should be required reading for anyone who writes or edits bios.

Best to you and Paul, and may Spring soon come your way!

Cheers, -Sam

4:02 PM  

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