Leontyne Price - The Prima Donna Collection
LEONTYNE PRICE— THE PRIMA DONNA COLLECTION • Leontyne Price (sop); Various accompaniments • RCA 61236 (4 CDs: 276:29 Text and Translation)
Arias by BARBER, BELLINI, BIZET, BOITO, BRITTEN, CHARPENTIER, CILEA, DEBUSSY, DVO?ÁK, FLOTOW, GIORDANO, GLUCK, HANDEL, KORNGOLD, LEONCAVALLO, MASCAGNI, MASSENET, MENOTTI, MEYERBEER, MOZART, OFFENBACH, POULENC, PUCCINI, PURCELL, J. STRAUSS II, VERDI, WAGNER, WEBER, ZANDONAI
This B-to-Z assemblage from 1992 brought Price’s complete “Prima Donna” albums together with many recordings of arias and scenas from operas she never performed, such as Elizabeth’s “Soliloquy and prayer” from Britten’s Gloriana , for example, or the aria of another Elizabeth, “Dich, teure Halle,” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser . Though Price retired from the stage in 1985, she taught master classes at Juilliard and continued to sing recitals from time to time, giving her last in 1997. The recordings here were all made between 1965 and 1979 and catch her at her peak. And at her peak, she was one classy singer.
Such a sense resides first of all in the sound of a voice: it must be literally attractive in itself. Listening to Rusalka’s “Song to the Moon” from Dvo?ák’s opera of that name, say, or to Meleagre’s aria, “Care selve,” from Handel’s Atalanta , one is taken by the sheer beauty of it, a sound that floated high pianissimos with dead-accurate pitch, without the slightest strain. When that beauty combined with well-focused power, as in Donna Anna’s call for revenge in Mozart’s Don Giovanni , “Or sai chi l’onore,” it was a spine-tingling experience for me. Add to that the fact that Price was a most intelligent singer, whose words and stage character counted for a great deal, and we are in the presence of someone who understood what musical theater was all about. Writers on music are supposed to resist using the word “thrilling,” but I can think of no other, objective, word. If you are not ravished by this sound, you are probably deaf.
We rightly associate Leontyne Price with the great roles in Verdi and Puccini, and the core of her repertoire—perhaps of that of most lyric sopranos—was Italian Romantic opera. As near as I can tell, apart from Carmen and a go at The Prioress in Poulenc’s Les dialogues des Carmélites , she did not sing much French opera, and only Strauss’s Ariadne from the German repertoire. An interesting aspect of this collection, therefore, is to discover her forays into other operas, many not much known at all in the United States at the time: Dvo?ák’s Rusalka , Korngold’s Die tote Stadt , Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini , Weber’s Oberon , Britten’s Gloriana , and still others.
Price fans will already have this collection. For those who have never heard this wonderful singer, it will make a generous introduction to a great artist. It is good to note that it has been re-released by arkivmusic.com.
FANFARE: Alan Swanson
Catalog Number: RCA61236
Composer: Antonín Dvořák, Arrigo Boito, Benjamin Britten, Carl Maria von Weber, Christoph W. Gluck, Claude Debussy, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Francesco Cilèa, Francis Poulenc, Friedrich von Flotow, George Frideric Handel, Georges Bizet, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Giacomo Puccini, Gian Carlo Menotti, Giuseppe Verdi, Gustave Charpentier, Hector Berlioz, Henry Purcell, Jacques Offenbach, Johann Strauss Jr., Jules Massenet, Pietro Mascagni, Riccardo Zandonai, Richard Wagner, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Samuel Barber, Umberto Giordano, Vincenzo Bellini, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: Francesco Molinari-Pradelli
Orchestra/Ensemble: RCA Italian Opera Orchestra
Performer: Leontyne Price