Cher Public

Happy birthday Leontyne Price!

Today is the 90th anniversary of the birth of the great American diva. 

The cher public are invited to add their own remembrances and favorite YouTube clips to the comments section to mark this day.

  • WindyCityOperaman

    December 1965. The group of bored fifth grade boys are huddled into the public school library. The weeks drag on before we break for the holidays, and the librarian/teacher insists on playing Christmas music on the record player. We sit and giggle about the long-haired musical arrangements and the high soprano voice singing. The librarian tells us all to shut up and listen “to one of the greatest voices in the world”. We do. And at that tender age I first heard the voice of Leontyne Price.

    I have all her recordings. I had the privilege of finally hearing her in recital where she sang this and I was in tears. Many happy returns dear lady!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziWyv0nVIkQ

  • Porgy Amor

    Leontyne Price plays an important role in the Porgy Amor origin story.

    There was a time when I had listened to pretty much everything except opera and classical song. I came to this music from the instrumental side — my first interests were the symphonies, concertos, tone poems, orchestral suites, chamber music, piano repertoire. I first heard classical voices in works such as the Missa Solemnis, the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th, the Alto Rhapsody and German Requiem…and the Verdi Requiem. The famous Karajan film of that, which I first saw on videotape, has that incredible lineup of Price, Cossotto, Pavarotti, and Ghiaurov.

    I knew the names of Price and Pavarotti, but that was my first time really hearing them or anyone like them. What I remember about that first experience with Price, besides of course the beautiful sound, was the presence she had. She was fascinating to watch even just standing still, not making a sound. And when she did open her mouth, it was like a shaft of light when a cloud passes.

    I wanted to hear more and more of her; I remember being so disappointed to learn that she had not made complete recordings of some of the operas I heard her sing in part, such as Eugene Onegin and Otello. Of course, I eventually discovered other favorites, but she remains a very special singer to me. Most of us can name that artist who, more than anyone else, opened up a world for us, and she was mine.

  • Armerjacquino

    Someone has to: it might as well be me.

    Apparently this aria finds her on much better form than for most of her final run. It’s certainly wonderful singing. But of course it’s not about the singing. It’s about everything that happens during the ovation.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGfP38nd-U0

    • Donna Annina

      I showed this clip to a class of 4th,5th and 6th graders with whom I worked when Opera America had the Music! Words! Opera! program. The kids were mesmerized and afterward, one of the girls came up to me and asked if she could write to Ms. Price. I gave her the Met’s address. I sure hope she got a response.

  • manou

    This Price is far above rubies.

  • rhinestonecowgirl

    The first great diva I ever threw flowers at, and still one of my absolute favourites. An inspiration, especially for younger singers, and so versatile. In several senses Vissi d’arte could have been written for her. Respect, love and birthday greetings.

  • Ivy Lin

    I absolutely love this recording.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81DXwgRv9VQ

    • PCally

      I believe there are a bunch of selections from that concert on YouTube and they are all fantastic. Included is a dove sono that is so lovely that I can’t help wonder why she never sang the countess

    • I have a CD which has selections from the famous Munich 1968 recital as well as some from a 1973 recital. That “Depuis le jour” is perfect, very similar to this one.

    • Kenneth Conway

      Sublime … otherworldly … so gorgeous, the voice almost defies belief.

  • EarlA3
  • Agnes Moorehead

    These are perfect! Late 70s?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzzzvqNpgUk

    • David Prosser

      I love the audience reaction at 7:30. Well. you would, wouldn’t you

  • MisterSnow

    Here is a lovely tribute video (not mine) with many wonderful pictures of Ms. Price throughout her career. I always thought she was an exceptionally striking and beautiful woman with decidedly African features (large eyes, wide nose, full mouth) which gave her a very regal look. She could also really rock an Afro in the 70s!
    https://youtu.be/FTJ-QuHDHF0

  • MisterSnow

    And what a shame that George Gerswhin never lived to hear this. It seems like the last note will go on forever!
    https://youtu.be/2hDtUNSrhqI

  • MisterSnow

    Okay, just one more. From Beverly Sills retirement gala. A great tribute from one diva to another diva. There’s a great story (I may not have it exactly correct) where one fan met Ms. Price and recognized her as an opera star but could not recall her name. No, don’t tell me….you’re…Bevery Sills! No honey, I’m the other one -- Joan Sutherland. (Or something to that effect)
    https://youtu.be/8Lt0t6arjeE

  • I was fortunate to see Leontyne Price once while in my last year of high school when she gave a recital in Toronto (aged 65 I think). I still remember the electricity in the hall before she came out. The lights dimmed and people quieted down but she didn’t come out! Soon, people started talking again and the noise level increased, and after another minute or two, the door suddenly opened and she came out with that radiant smile. The place erupted. And then she opened her mouth on the first selection, Handel’s “Dank sei dir, Herr”. I still remember the way her voice shimmered; I could feel it vibrate in the air.

    I lined up for her autograph afterwards. I told her how happy I was for the chance to hear her and she asked: “Are you a singer?”. I replied no. And she quickly retorted “Oh, just handsome?”. I blushed and floated away with my autographed copy of her Strauss Arias album.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4bnga5RUUk

  • She’s seen quite a few versions of this country in her lifetime. I sincerely hope she outlives this current excuse for an administration. Happy birthday Ms. Price!
    https://youtu.be/yZpU-XvlDu8

  • MisterSnow

    For me her recorded legacy, particularly the 5 Prima Donna albums, remain one of the greatest legacies of all time. Although her stage roles became more limited as her career went on, in these five albums she masterfully explored every aspect of the soprano repertoire in roles she never performed complete. From Handel to Wagner, lyric coloratura (Traviata) to full on dramatic (Turandot), 18th to 20th century, she mastered it all. Here are two of my favorites. Her Liebestod is probably the best sung by a non-Wagnerian ever (Callas was a Wagnerian early in her career) and her Caro Nome -- well, just make sure you are sitting down (or holding on to something) before she gets to that final note!

    https://youtu.be/51FmWg8kEq4

    https://youtu.be/mw1sGS28IRM

  • Leontiny

    A little late to this page having spent my morning listening to her while the snow falls. I didn’t know how powerful art could be until I first saw her when I was 18. Trovatore. I also didn’t know it was possible to sob uncontrollably, gut wrenching sobs, when someone was singing. Had to put my sweater in my mouth. Like Farrell, when Price stepped on stage I watched no one else. I know it’s how she breathed, but the way she held herself was so noble, her gestures were elegant, and that soul just poured out of her. And the voice was huge. I sat close a couple of times and the sound just roared at me. She also floated the most beautiful soft sounds, and that glorious top that she revelled in still brings me to my knees. I am blessed to have had the pleasure of her artistry.
    Everyone has already posted what I was thinking of. Thank you all. And Happy Birthday Ms Price.

  • gerbear

    Here’s my cherished Leontyne Price story. I believe it was when I was a teenager or young adult (’70s), living in Nowheresville, Canada (outside of Winnipeg) when there was a CBC television special from Montreal (maybe Notre Dame Cathedral), wherein Ms. Price was the special guest for a Christmas concert featuring an orchestra, likely Montreal Symphony Orchestra. The moment came when she began singing He Shall Feed His Flock, one of my very favourite pieces from Handel’s Messiah. When the orchestra began the transition to the ‘soprano’ key for Come Unto Him, I almost panicked: there wasn’t another soloist standing next to her to take over, because, as quickly became evident, SHE sang both parts. It was a musical/magical moment I have never forgotten.

    A few years later (mid ’80s), I moved to Minneapolis and was thrilled when Minnesota Orchestra opened its season with a concert with Ms. Price as guest artist, the only time I have ever heard her in person, and was utterly ecstatic that she received her adoring fans afterwards. I was so pleased to be able to tell her of this incredibly strong impression she had left on me, and I will never forget her response: “Oh, were you one of the musicians in the orchestra?” Naturally, I interpreted this to mean, ‘you must be a professional musician in order to have noticed/remembered.’

    A few years after that, I was thrilled to be in NYC for Pride festivities, and sometime after the parade, my hosts (one of whom was in the Met opera chorus at the time, directed us to walk by the brownstone where she (and her brother?) apparently lived.

    I have always been thrilled when having an opportunity to hear/see her sing (or to be interviewed), but these are the experiences that have been indelible.

    Many Thanks, and Happy Birthday, Ms. Price!!!!

  • PATRICK MACK

    So I became an opera fan from listening to Leontyne Price sing Aida on the Decca recording. Literally. I checked it out from the library purely out of curiosity. I heard her voice and that was it. It was like a drug. Still is. I was 17.

    A month later there was a review in the LA Times for a recital that Price had given in Pasadena and it said that she was giving a second recital the next day at Royce Hall at UCLA. A short bus ride from where I lived. I begged my mother for money to go see her in person. Begged. We had nothing that was not essential when I was growing up. We were poor but we lived in a good neighborhood with good schools. My single mom gave me $40. and I think top ticket was $36. if I recall.

    I went to the box office and got a seat 8th row center. I was in awe the entire time. Even the art songs were fascinating and I think she sang eight encores. My hands hurt when it was over.

    Afterwards I lined up backstage to meet her and I don’t know where I read that you could do that. I was the only person my age in the vicinity. When I got to her she signed my program and said,”You’re awfully young to be here who are you with?” and I told her I came on my own and then about checking out the Aida recording from the library and that I had been an opera fan every since (if she only knew!), She took me by the shoulders and she kissed me on the forehead and said,”Thanks goodness I was responsible for one convert!”. So I was blessed by her right then.

    Just a year or two ago I was telling the story to some friends with my mom present and my mother said at the end, “and that $40. was my grocery money”. She had never told me that and never would have because she wouldn’t have wanted me to feel guilty about going. It almost made me cry at the time. She knew, even then, the things that were important to me. It made me love my Mom even more.

    • Armerjacquino

      That’s lovely.

    • Camille

      Patrick,
      you made tears come to my eyes. Thank your Mom.

      The one and only time I saw the great Miss Price was not in opera but at a gratis concert given at Carnegie Hall after the 9/11 disaster. There had been several distinguished musicians giving generously and sensitively during that afternoon, but nothing compared to Miss Price’s little spiritual — the one about the Light that she’s gonna shine — and the galvanzing and reheartening effect her beyond beautiful singing had on an audience of shocked and stunned persons. That B flat of hers is still spinning in space somewhere out there.

      In that one little song she redeemed all our sadness and suffering for a brief bright moment and proved beyond all measure of doubt what a great white light of hope, love, and goodness her voice represents.

      May god bless her and keep her in this life and whatever may lay beyond.

      • manou
        • grimoaldo2

          Hahaha that’s wondrous manou, where in the world did you find it?
          And yes, how nice to see a happy return by dear Camille on a thread where we are sending many happy returns to a beloved diva!

      • So nice to see you, chere Camille.

      • PATRICK MACK

        I did thank my mom for you Camille.

    • CwbyLA

      Patrick your story brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing.

    • Malapasqua

      You’re not the only one, Patrick — in my college years, I went to see her several times; each time I too would go backstage to meet her, and I would tell her that I too was from Mississippi, and how proud of her we were in our state. That got me a kiss every time!

  • Monkeyboy

    My one and only Leontyne sighting was as an opera newbie, at the Krannert Center for the Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, fall 1990. Having only started my infatuation with the art form six months earlier, I probably had no idea that I was going to see one of the greatest divas of my lifetime in recital. Of course her voice was not as agile as it had been in her youth, which I would only realize after amassing a great number of her recordings. This recital cemented my love of opera and the soprano voice. Happy Birthday, Miss Price!

  • Danny in Providence

    February 1977. After my friend and I finished a high school play rehearsal, we decided to see if we could sneak in to that evening’s Met performance of Forza at intermission.
    What we knew: Price, Domingo and Milnes, conducted by Levine. Heard them on records, never seen in person, having only known of this art form for a few months.
    Did not know Forza. At all.
    We snagged a couple of ticket stubs from a departing couple, and settled into the orchestra (~ row P). Act IV starts, Talvela as Guardiano, Capecchi as Melitone, they sound fine. Milnes enters, starts “Invano Alvaro.” (Remember, we did not know a note of this opera.) Placido joins him, and well, they were in their primes and on fire. After the curtain on scene I, bedlam. We looked at each other as if to say “Did you just hear that?!” Nothing could possibly top it…

    THEN Miss Price sings the Pace. My first Pace, my first hearing in person of this brilliant radiant voice. Unreal.
    Happy Birthday, Miss Price, and many happy returns.

  • Luvtennis

    I was 14 when I sprained my ankle. It was early June and I was facing 4 weeks without tennis. So I decided to conquer classical music. I went to the public library and checked out the following recordings -- Scheherazade (Beecham reissue); Goldberg Variations (Gould); Eroica/Leonora 2 (Joachim/Concertegebouw); Norma (Callas 1st recording Seraphim reissue); Lucia (Sutherland 1st recording); Aida (Price 2nd recording); Tristan (Nilsson Decca recording).

    Truthfully, I was first drawn to the orchestral music. The Eroica is still my favorite piece of music. So when I turned to those operas, I listened to them with the same ears that I brought to the instrumental music. I expected to hear the music sung at the proper tempo with the hard stuff played at the right speed and dynamic. Because my first experiences with orchestral and instrumental music were with the very greatest virtuosos, I expected the singers to sing their arias with the same assurance that a great virtuoso violinist might play a display piece or a difficult passage in a concerto. With that filter, Callas fell out. I could hear what a challenge singing was for her and I was too ignorant to appreciate the magic she used to reconstruct those crystal shards of a great voice that she was given back into an incredibly expressive and often virtuosic instrument through force of willl and concentration. All I could hear was the slow tempi and the wayward upward intervals and the difficulty of singing certain high notes with the softness that the music seemed to demand. Later I discovered Flagstad and Nilsson’s bravura began to seem incomplete in Wagner (not as Elektra though!). But prime Price and Sutherland lasted until I finally internalized the constant criticisms aimed at them. Poor diction, emotionally detached, mannered, decayed, etc. Real artists should be judged by how hard they make it sound. It’s the struggle that makes great art. Or so I was told. So I went in search of just that. And in time, I began to realize that Callas was magnificent. That Modl was an incomparable artist. That Tebaldi’s timbre and diction and rich middle voice and unparalleled sincerity were to be treasured despite the troubles on top and the aspirates, etc.

    But as time wore on, I lost patience again with the struggle. I wanted Elysium again. And so Sutherland’s “Ah non giunge” from the AOS Sonambula. A miracle. Or Price’s radio recordings of “Zweite Brautnacht” from 59 and 68. Or Joan’s “Vieni al Tempio” from the first Decca recording where she transcends everything with a sound and line and technical splendor that makes every other performance sound amateurish to me. Or Price’s Nile scenes with Vickers, and Bergonzi, and Corelli (Live and in studio recordings) where the voice just floats through music of almost unimaginable difficulty (if sung right). Or the insanity of Sutherland’s “Art of the Prima Donna” where the most virtuosic music is sung like Heifetz playing a violin transcription. Or Price’s Prima Donna series with that “Sur Mes Genoux” where she actually makes sense of that music while displaying every vocal color available fo the soprano voice, a legato of infinite tonal, coloristic and dynamic variety, all the while giving a literal object lesson in the distinction between lyric, full lyric, lyrico-spinto and spinto dramatic soprano (in a single crescendo in fact) Or the Munich recital where crazily enough it was even better and more daring and more secure live. Hard for me to listen to anyone else in their music anymore. And that is both a good and bad thing, really.

    So thanks for hanging in there with us, Ms. Price. I will never forget meeting you on that cold day in Cambridge 30 years ago when the magic of your singing transported me, and your graciousness backstage made me believe in a better world. Thank you.