What is the proper pronunciation of цель? For context, my choir is working on a Russian piece, and the transliteration we have is inconsistent and unreliable.
I have been reading through Russian Lyric Diction – A Practical Guide (Grayson 2012), which has been an invaluable resource. Grayson writes in particular that
[when -е- is] in the stressed position, when preceded by a palatalized consonant or by -ж-, -ш-, or -ц-, and followed by a palatalized phoneme,
then it is pronounced /e/, similar to French é (pp. 106–107). A few examples from the guide to demonstrate the rule:
жечь /ʒetʃʲ/ шесть /ʃesʲtʲ/ целить /'tselʲitʲ/ Compare to: шест /ʃɛst/ целый /'tsɛɫɨj/
According to this, I understand that цель should be /tselʲ/, not /tsɛlʲ/. Wiktionary gives the latter pronunciation, however, on both the English and Russian pages for the word. On the other hand, the spoken example on Wiktionary sounds to me like the former.
I have listened to a variety of spoken clips on forvo.com, and it sounds like the vowel varies between /e/ and /ɛ/.
I've also looked through Stack Exchange, but haven't found anything addressing this rule. On the contrary, this answer claims that there is only one sound for stressed -е-, namely /ɛ/, and specifically gives жечь (/ʒɛtʃʲ/) as an example.
So is this a matter of regional dialect? Is Grayson's guide accurate, insofar as it describes "standard", formal pronunciation?