Opera + Classical Music Features

Q&A: Kate Royal

On July 5th, Glyndebourne will present Fiona Shaw’s award-winning production of Britten’s chamber opera The Rape of Lucretia; when first seen as part of the 2013 Glyndebourne Tour, it garnered rave reviews, and with many of the cast reprising their roles for the festival, it’s certain to be a sought after event.

New to the cast is the soprano Kate Royal, who sings the role of the Female Chorus; Kate’s Marschallin in the 2014 Der Rosenkavalier was one of the highlights of the season, so we jumped at the chance of having a few words with her as she prepared for this role which presents challenges of a very different kind.


OMH You had a big success with the Marschallin last year, and this year’s role is a very definite contrast to that. Could you say a little about the different challenges involved in preparing for these parts?

KR For me the similarity is that both the characters are quite expressive in terms of the language they use and perhaps they are both sometimes a little on the moral high ground. But that is where the similarities stop. The role of the female chorus is unique in that they (male and female) are commentators on the action, narrators, although Fiona Shaw also makes them a central part of the story, very much integrated into the plot. It’s perhaps vocally where the roles are more in a similar vein, quite low in the voice and then high and with not very not much in the middle.


OMH This will be your fourth role for Glyndebourne within a relatively short period so it’s obviously a house in which you enjoy working. What do you think makes it a special place?

KR The main thing for me that sets it apart from other houses is that we have a long rehearsal period and everyone is there all the time so you can really get some work done. It is the perfect place to do new roles and really try to get under the skin of the piece. The setting is obviously wonderful and it does help you with your mood when you can walk around the gardens in the break and have lunch with the lambs. It is a family there and every time I go back I feel so welcomed and at ease. This enables me to push myself and get the best out of myself.


OMH You have previously sung the Governess in Turn of the Screw. Could you talk about what that role means to you, and how it compares to that of the Female Chorus?

KR The Governess was one of my first major Britten roles and I really hope to do it again soon. I feel that I only just touched the surface of the character and there is a lot more to explore. It is such a strange story and with the children so heavily involved it brought with it a special feeling that I cannot really put into words. Female Chorus is a real challenge linguistically, as there are some high lying phrases with tricky text so I am going to have to work very hard to get the words across.


OMH Fiona Shaw’s production of Lucretia was the first at Glyndebourne since the premiere in 1946, and it was generally regarded as the darkest one could expect to see. Do you think that it is only the work’s grim subject matter which has prevented its being more frequently performed?

KR That’s a very good question, I am fairly new to the piece myself and in telling people what I will be doing this Summer I have to say it’s quite a hard sell for non opera goers! Glyndebourne and in fact all opera can get stuck in a kind of cliché where corsetry and high Cs become the subject of discussion and the story gets totally ignored. This is certainly a dark piece and I applaud Glyndebourne for not being scared to face the challenges it brings. The juxtaposition of the intense score and subject matter and the clinking of champagne glasses on the lawn is one that thrills me.


OMH A recent production at the Juillard set the work in the context of ‘college date rape.’ What do you think of productions which incorporate such issues?

KR I can see that this idea could make a lot of sense – after all we are faced with alleged rape cases every day in the news. We cannot shy away from this subject and amazingly in the 21st century it is still a major issue. In the opera there certainly is a sense that the rape was more for political reasons than any other and Junius perhaps was the driving force that led Tarquinius to his fate. It is testament to the piece that people are still trying to find new ways to stage it. Pieces like this really do transcend their cultural and historical time frame.


OMH You include the ‘Tower’ scene from Turn of the Screw on your recital disc, along with Ellen’s ‘Embroidery’ aria from Peter Grimes. Is Ellen Orford a role we can expect to hear you sing in the near future?

KR I would love to sing the role of Ellen – another woman repressed and searching for belonging in some way, not unlike the Governess.


OMH Your operatic roles are very much centred around Mozart, Britten and Strauss which are perfect for your voice, and you’ve resisted what must have been temptations to go in for Verdi. I’ve always heard a great Handel soprano in your voice, but you have not sung any Handel roles as yet. Is this because you don’t care for his music, or just that the parts have not appealed or been offered, with so much else that’s ideal for you?

KR I love Handel and I have perhaps shied away from it over the years as I felt the very ‘authentic’ baroque style of singing didn’t suit me. I like singing it at modern pitch and with vibrato! I do have an exciting Handel role in the diary so I am going to have to face my fears! There is so much repertoire to discover and one can only go at a certain pace. I have a huge number of roles and hundreds of songs under my belt and there will always be things that I dream of singing and never will. But I cannot say that I don’t feel totally at home in the world of Britten and Strauss.


OMH After Glyndebourne, what is coming up in the future for you? We have not heard you at the Royal Opera since Gloriana, so is a return to Covent Garden in your plans?

KR I have so many exciting projects coming up and after this Summer I will focus on my recital work; I have a new programme coming up called “Komm, Trost der Welt’ which includes Mahler’s Ruckert Lieder and Barber’s Hermit Songs and songs by Clara and Robert Schumann. I do not know when I will return to ROH but when I do I hope it will be with Mozart.


The Rape of Lucretia is at Glyndebourne on 5, 10, 17, 24, 30 July and 4, 9, 14, 19 August.

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