In an extraordinary generation of great singers that included Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Birgit Nilsson and Montserrat Caballe, Price reigned in the lirico-spinto (Italian for "pushed lyric") roles of Verdi, Puccini, and Mozart. Her soprano was notable for its rich, seamless, sometimes husky, emotionally vibrant sound. Her voice ranged from A below Middle C to the D above High C. She is also a witty woman whose many bon mots have entered opera lore. Once, when she was appearing in Atlanta in the cowgirl role of Minnie in Puccini's "La Fanciulla del West," she was told she could not stay at the whites-only hotel with the rest of the Met company.
She looked at the general manager and said, "Don't worry, Mr. Bing, I'm sure you can find a place for me and the horse." Price was born in a segregated black neighborhood of Laurel, Mississippi. Her father worked in a lumber mill and her mother was a midwife with a rich singing voice. When Leontyne's musical talent showed itself early, her parents traded in the family phonograph for a small toy piano for her to play.
An affluent white family in Laurel, the Chisholms, also encouraged Leontyne and asked her to sing at family events. Aiming for a teaching career, Price enrolled in the music education program at Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio, but she completed her studies in voice. With the help of the famous bass Paul Robeson and the Chisholms, she obtained a scholarship to the Juilliard School in New York City, where she became the prize pupil of Florence Page Kimball. Her first stage performance was as Mistress Quickly in a student production of Verdi's Falstaff. The composer and critic Virgil Thomson heard one of those performances and, impressed, hired her for a Broadway revival of his opera, Four Saints in Three Acts, in April 1952.
Her first loud public acclaim came as Bess in the 1954 Blevins Davis/Robert Breen revival of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Starting in Dallas, the production toured the U.S. and Europe, and finally returned for a run on Broadway. After the international leg of the tour, Price and baritone William Warfield, an admired concert and movie (Showboat) singer who had sung Porgy, were married at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.
(They were divorced in 1972.) In 1955, Price was engaged by NBC TV Opera to sing in an English-language performance of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca. The casting of a black singer, a first on TV, led several NBC affiliates to cancel the broadcast, but Price was a success. ("Tosca has a lot in common with Bess, they're both trollops," she told an interviewer.) A CD of the performance reveals a young soprano with a fluttery vibrato, elegant English diction, and the shining top notes that would be one of her hallmarks. In 1957, Leontyne Price made her professional operatic debut as Madame Lidoine in the American premiere of Dialogues of the Carmelites at the San Francisco Opera, a role she repeated for NBC-TV Opera. In 1958, after auditioning at Carnegie Hall for Herbert von Karajan, who confessed her singing "gave him goose pimples," Price was invited to make her first European operatic appearances at the Vienna State Opera, where von Karajan was the incoming intendant.
She made her debut as Pamina in The Magic Flute. She then sang Aida. Price and von Karajan became famous collaborators, in the opera house (notably in Salzburg performances of Mozart Don Giovanni and Verdi's Il Trovatore), the concert hall, and the recording studio, where they produced Tosca and Carmen, and a bestselling album of holiday music, A Christmas Offering. (All are available on CD.
Deutsche Grammophon has also released on DVD Karajan's hair-raising 1967 Verdi Requiem from La Scala, filmed by French film director Henri Clouzot, with Price, Fiorenza Cossotto, Nicholai Ghaiuov, and a young Luciano Pavarotti, making his La Scala debut.) On July 2, 1958, Price made her debut at London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as Aida. Two years later, on May 21, 1960, she appeared at La Scala, again as Aida, and becoming the first black singer to sing a leading role in that house." Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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