Archive for February 11, 2009

Leontyne Price

Posted in Opera with tags , on February 11, 2009 by telescoper

I’m getting a habit of forgetting birthdays. I meant to post this yesterday but it slipped my mind owing to me writing some bullshit for a grant application.

Anyway, I just wanted to post a birthday greeting to the wonderful Leontyne Price who was 82 years old on Tuesday 10th February. In case you’ve never heard of her, before she retired from the stage she was one of the great opera singers of her generation, famous for her enormous vocal range and smoky mezzo tones. She had a relatively light voice, without the thrilling power or dangerous edge of, say, Maria Callas, but she certainly knew how to use it for a big dramatic effect.

Amongst the many notable things about her was that she was the first black soprano to star at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, never one to be exaggerated in his praise of other musicians, said of her

I have always been one of her fans because in my opinion she is the greatest female singer ever, the greatest opera singer ever. She could hit anything with her voice. Leontyne’s so good it’s scary. Plus, she can play piano and sing and speak in all those languages… I love the way she sings Tosca. I wore out her recording of that, wore out two sets.

I’m not sure she was the greatest singer ever, and she wasn’t that marvellous as an actress, but she’s definitely up there amongst the very best. I have an old LP of her singing Aida which is truly magnificent (despite all the scratches). In fact, according to a BBC poll in 2007 she was voted the 4th greatest opera singer, behind Maria Callas (who else?), Dame Joan Sutherland, and Victoria de los Angeles. That’s pretty exalted company.

Anyway, the later performances on Youtube aren’t the best, so I’ve picked an older one of her near the peak of her powers, with her voice gorgeously expressive and very fluid in the upper register. Here she is in probably her best role, as the eponymous Aida who, incidentally, is Ethiopian.

Happy Birthday Leontyne Price and very many happy returns!