Welcome to part two of the life and music of American Soprano Leontyne Price. Last week we looked at her early life and the artists who inspired her. This week we cover the rest of the 1950s and the rising star of this talented singer. It was not alway easy as there was still a great deal of bigotry against African American opera singers but as you will see Leontyne Price did not allow this to stand in her way. William Price King now picks up the story.
In 1955 the world of opera had opened its doors to Leontyne Price who was still only 28 years old. In the February she was invited to sing Puccini’s Tosca for the NBC Opera Theatre under music director Peter Herman Adler, and was the first African American to appear in a leading role in a televised opera. This did not avoid controversy as a number of the NBC affiliates, both in the southern and northern states, cancelled the broadcast in protest. However, despite what must have been a very difficult time for Leontyne, she returned for thee more NBC Opera broadcasts in 1956, 1957 and 1960.
This was not to be the only incident of bigotry in her career, and in fact when she was touring with Herbert von Karajan in Salzburg in 1960, a stone was thrown through her window. In 1964 her perfomance of Donna Anna in Atlanta was marred by protests from certain factions.
Her collaboration with the Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan began in 1955 when he was on tour with the Berlin Philharmonic. He reportedly leapt on stage to accompany her himself during her audition as she performed Pace, pace, mio Dio from Verdi’s Forza del Destino.
This is a slightly later recording in 1963.
In the last act of “La Forza del Destino” Price sings “Pace, Pace, mio Dio,” a powerfully dramatic moment where she prays for peace on her tortured soul and expresses her love for God and for Alvaro. Verdi arias were made for Price’s voice. Her “Pace, Pace mio Dio” is like no one else’s, a real treasure. Her rich, warm, pure voice is stunning and she spins her golden sound beautifully and freely.
The next three years were to be very busy for this rising star in the classical music world. Leontyne performed in recitals with her accompanist David Garvey, and she also appeared with a number of orchestras across the United States. Her star was also on the rise internationally and she toured India in 1956, Australia in 1957 under the U.S. State Department banner. In May 1957 Leontyne made her first public appearance in the concert version of Aida, at the May Festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
That September she performed for the first time on the grand opera stage in San Francisco singing Madame Lidoine in the U.S premiere of the Dialogues of the Carmelites.
Dialogues des Carmélites is a French Opera in three acts divided into twelve scenes, with linking orchestral interludes with music and libretto by Francis Poulenc and was completed in 1956. The libretto was written after a book of the same name by French author Georges Bernanos who had died in 1948.The story is based on the 1794 history of the Martyrs of Compiègne who were guillotined during the French Revolution.
The world premiere of the opera was in January 1957 in La Scala in Milan in Italian, in its original French in the June and then in English in San Franciso in the September.
A few weeks after her debut in this new opera, Leontyne sang her first on-stage Aida, stepping in for Italian soprano Antoinetta Stella who fell ill. And in May of 1958 she made her European debut, as Aida, at the Vienna Staatsoper at the invitation of Herbert von Karajan.
Leontyne Price sings “O Patria Mia” from Aida (Verdi)
In Act III, on the eve of Amneris’ wedding to Radames, Aida, overcome with nostalgia on the banks of the Nile, mourns her homeland which she will never see again in the aria “O Patria Mia.” Price’s “Aida” is phenomenal, and pure perfection. It is considered a testament to her career. Her clear diction, lustrous tone, and flawless legato stand out in this aria.
After this wonderful European debut invitations flooded in and Leontyne performed at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and the Arena di Verona in Italy as Aida. The following year she returned to Vienna in the role as well as Pamina in The Magic Flute. Leontyne made her debut at the prestigious Salzburg Festival in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with Karajan.
Leontyne Price and Herbert von Karajan’s dynamic collaboration was to be instrumental in her early successes in both the opera house, concert hall and recording studio where they produced complete recordings of Tosca and Carmen as well as a bestselling holidy music album, A Christmas Offering.
On May 21, 1960, Price made her first appearance at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, again as Aida, becoming the first African American to sing a leading role in Italy’s greatest opera house. (In 1958, Mattiwilda Dobbs, from Atlanta, had sung Elvira, the secondary lead soprano role in Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri.)
In 1959, after hearing her in Il Trovatore that August at Verona with tenor Franco Corelli, Met General Manager Rudolf Bing invited her to join the Met company in the 1960–61 season. On January 27, 1961, she made a triumphant debut in Il Trovatore.
Tacea La Notte Placida” from Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.”
In Act I of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore,” Leonora tells her servant, Ines, that she heard someone serenading her in the garden, a knight in black armor who she had once crowned as the champion of a tournament. She confesses her love for him in this *cavatina “Tacea La Notte Placida,” which she sings with an entrancing blend of lyricism and expressivity. Her control is amazing and her diction is excellent.
*cavatina – In opera the cavatina is an aria, generally of brilliant character, sung in one or two sections without repeats.
The final ovation lasted at least 35 minutes, one of the longest in Met history. Price’s debut at the New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House was such a success, it marked the beginning of her residency as one of the opera’s principal sopranos. She flourished as a prima donna at the Met, starring in such roles such as Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly, Minnie in La Fanciulla del West and, perhaps most notably, as Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra.
In recognition of this extraordinary run, Time magazine put her on its cover on March . That fall, American music critics named her “Musician of the Year” and she was put on the cover of “Musical America.”
In his review, The New York Times critic Harold C. Schonberg wrote that Price’s “voice, warm and luscious, has enough volume to fill the house with ease, and she has a good technique to back up the voice itself. She even took the trills as written, and nothing in the part as Verdi wrote it gave her the least bit of trouble. She moves well and is a competent actress. But no soprano makes a career of acting. Voice is what counts, and voice is what Miss Price has.”
The career of Leontyne Price was well and truly launched.
Additional sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leontyne_Price
Buy the music of Leontyne Price: https://www.amazon.com/Leontyne-Price/e/B000AQ1580
About William Price King
William Price King is an American jazz singer, musician and composer. Originally he studied classical music and opera but over the years his style has evolved to what many refer to as the ‘sweet point’ where music and voice come together so beautifully.
His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Torme. His jazz album, ‘Home,’ is a collection of contemporary songs and whilst clearly a homage to their wonderful legacy it brings a new and refreshing complexity to the vocals that is entrancing.
His latest album Eric Sempe and William Price King is now available to download. The repertory includes standards such as “Bye Bye Blackbird” (a jazz classic), Sting’s “Englishman in New York,” Queen’s “The Show Must Go On”, Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and other well-known jazz, pop, and rock classics.
William and Eric Sempe have also brought their own magic to the album with original tracks such as Keep on Dreaming and Red Snow with collaboration with Jeanne King
Download the new album. http://cdbaby.com/cd/williampriceking
William is currently in France where he performs in popular Jazz Venues in Nice and surrounding area.
Connect to William
Website – http://www.williampriceking.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/WilliamPriceKing
Twitter – @wpkofficial
Regular Venue – http://cave-wilson.com/
You will find the previous artists.. Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Kiri Te Kanawa in this directory.
Thank you so much for stopping by and your feedback is always very welcome. Sally