Leontyne Price, 95 today

Leontyne Price, 95 today


norman lebrecht

February 10, 2022

The Mississippi soprano who planted her feet on the Metropolitan Opera stage in 1961 and sang there for quarter of a century has a round-numbered birthday today.

She gave her last public performance in September 2001, in a Carnegie Hall memorial concert for victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Long may she live.


  • Una says:

    A happy and a wonderful birthday!

  • Scordatura says:

    A national treasure!

  • SlippedChat says:

    Leontyne Price was my introduction to opera and, for that matter, to classical music in general.

    In the home where I grew up, no one listened to this kind of music, and I knew almost nothing about it. (Well, “Bolero” and the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth . . .) But I had been an accompanist to choirs in my high school, and was predisposed toward vocal music, and I actually became interested in opera before I was ready to appreciate most orchestral or chamber music.

    A person across the hall from me in my college dormitory liked opera, and played discs, clearly audible, even with his door closed, from across the hall. And one day I heard the most glorious voices and melodies, and I walked over to ask: “Who are these people, and what are they singing about?” It was Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera,” with Price, Carlo Bergonzi, Reri Grist, Shirley Verrett, and Robert Merrill. (Talk about luxurious casting!) I later bought a copy of the recording—this and the Scotto/Bergonzi “Madama Butterfly” were the first two classical music recordings I ever owned), and thus began a long love for Leontyne Price.

    A Price performance was the occasion of my first visit to the Metropolitan Opera (which, by fortunate chance, was also the night I first met my future wife, who was in the company of a female mutual friend during a university holiday week).

    Price’s last staged opera performance, that 1985 Met “Aida” is something I ‘know,” of course, only from television, but I will never forget the immense and seemingly never-ending ovation after “O Patria Mia”–an ovation not just for a wonderful performance but for an entire career of beauty, lived with great personal dignity and poise by someone who also happened, to everyone’s benefit, to rearrange previous racial conceptions about operatic talent and stardom.

    In the years after her retirement from staged opera, I was fortunate to see and hear Price in several recitals in, or within driving distance, of the area where I live. The voice was, of course, no longer “youthful,” but it had a beautiful maturity and still had that quality, especially on high notes, which others have described as “a distinctive shimmer” or “warmth.” And she was just as gracious in the post-performance receiving line as in the performance itself.

    What a wonderful human being and artist. I hope she is well and still having a fulfilling life. She certainly enriched mine.

    • Ms.Melody says:

      Thank you for this beautiful, personal heartfelt tribute to a great singer and artist.

    • IP says:

      But who was the director? Was it Regietheater?

    • David K. Nelson says:

      The only time I heard her “live and in person” was a recital in Milwaukee that was also after her retirement from opera. It was a huge and enthusiastic (and diverse, in more ways than the obvious) crowd, and she was of course a figure of considerable glamour and style and just the way she walked out on stage got the audience whooping and cheering with excitement. Her voice was a bit stiff in an opening Mozart group, but once warmed up she was everything one could want and then some. After intermission she came out in the same high fashion outfit BUT in a different pastel shade and that got the audience whooping and cheering again. It was a generous and interesting program with encores. It was an evening with a Prima Donna in the best sense of that abused and misunderstood phrase.

      Speaking of which RCA Victor featured Price in a sizable series of “Prima Donna” LPs, operatic excerpts and arias with an emphasis on roles or operas she was not going to sing on stage. There is glorious singing on those well-recorded discs. I wish I could remember the name of the reviewer (because he or she deserves full credit for the bon mot) who wrote that in the Prima Donna collection, Leontyne Price sings everything there is to sing, except for “Send in the Clowns” and the Death of Boris.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    Whenever I walk by her former house in Greenwich Village (Vandam Street), I get a little nostalgic for all those years of hearing Miss Price’s unforgettable voice at the Met and Carnegie Hall. Thank goodness she was well-recorded.

    Enjoy your day, Miss Price!!!

  • Monsoon says:

    Happy birthday, indeed.

    I’ll be listening to her live Met Tosca!

  • E says:

    The sweetness of the voice, the grand dignity, in these…. a lesson for living. Thank you.
    As the Japanese honor such artists, she is a living treasure.
    A “world heritage” treasure, as UNESCO would put it.

  • David Cripps says:

    I was Principal Horn on her recording of the Strauss Four Last Songs with Leinsdorf. I shall never forget the hug she gave me, listening to the playback of September!

  • Molina says:

    She was the first operatic soprano I was ever exposed to. And have loved her voice ever since.

  • Kathleen E King says:

    BLESS her for she has been a blessing to all of us. I remember her MET debut. What a shining voice.

  • SlippedChat says:

    For readers who still buy music in CD format, Sony/RCA have remastered 10 of Price’s opera recordings for that label, and have reissued them in a big-box set. (Each opera has its own fold-out art work, with discs in cardboard sleeves, a storage format I don’t like, but . . .)

    The “Tosca” and “Aida” are the ones with Domingo and Milnes (her “Tosca” with diStefano and her “Aida” with Vickers having moved over to Decca/London or whatever that company is now called). The “Forza del Destino” is the earlier one conducted by Thomas Schippers, with Richard Tucker as the tenor. One of the 10 operas is, in all senses of the word, a “one-off,” i.e., a single CD containing the one-act “Il Tabarro” with Domingo and Milnes (and some wonderful, if brief, final shrieking by Price when the tenor’s dead body is revealed from beneath the cloak).

    You can find this set (I just checked) on Amazon US/Canada/UK, and at Presto Music in the UK, and perhaps other places where you buy music, by searching for “Leontyne Price Assoluta.” (The set subtitle is actually “Prima Donna Assoluta,” but if you exclude “Assoluta,” the search results will also include her “Prima Donna” series of recital albums.)

  • Benjamin Bittern says:

    She should resume her career, she’s rested long enough. I bet her voice is in good shape.

  • Rudy says:

    When I was a very young, my aunt gave me a wonderful unexpected gift: The Prima Donna volume 1. It changed my life !! Years later I mentioned this to her after a San Francisco recital. She was incredibly kind to me. Many happy returns, Miss Price, prima Donna assolutissima del mondo Indeed !!!

  • JR says:

    Who’s the bitter person who’s downvoting the remembrances of this great American artist on her birthday? Glad I’m not him or her.