Leontyne Price - Puccini Heroines
It is just over ten years since Leontyne Price made her complete recordings of Butterfly and Tosca yet the voice is as rich and varied as ever. Indeed I am amazed that this new account of "Vissi d'arte" is even more refined in tone, even more exquisitely controlled than the one in the complete Karajan set (Decca 5BB123-4, 1/73), which revealed an unevenness in the voice under pressure. That is something which occasionally emerges here (as at the start of "In quelle trine mot-bide"), but I am glad to have it confirmed that it is not a latter-day development. The end of Tosca's aria here does indeed bring the most ravishing moments in an enthralling disc, with each pianissimo note sustained with amazing breath control, seemingly without effort. The contrast between old and new in Butterfly's aria is almost equally reassuring. In the complete set (RCA SER5504-6, 6/63) Price offers marginally fresher tone but the portamenti are more obtrusive, less elegantly touched in as they are today. Incidentally it is a feature of this recital disc that a few preparatory bars are included before the usual start of some of the arias. I am not sure that with "Un be] dl" it was a good idea to have the end of the preceding passage, particularly when after calling on on Suzuki to listen ("Senti"), Price does not pause quite long enough before the aria proper.
Such reservations are little more than quibbles in a display of Puccini singing that brings joy in each number. Though, as I say, the opening of "In quelle trine morbide" has its hint of flutter, and the other Marion aria starts rather sluggishly, the climax in each is formidably powerful, thrillingly controlled. It is good, too, to have several rarities. The aria from La Rondine is just as charming as the one usually included in recitals. The innocent sweetness of the aria from Le Villi finds Price in glowing, fresh voice, girlish and delicate in the pointing of decorations. In the aria from Edgar Price might have attempted to characterise Tigrana a little more pointedly, but with every note hit precisely in big, rich singing, one can forgive the generalised emotion—particularly when it is partly Puccini's fault. After beautifully poised singing in Mimi's two arias, Price attempts to provide the necessary contrast in Musetta's Waltz Song, but there the minxish manner does not always avoid mannerism. All told then a valuable addition to Price's recorded repertory, with sympathetic accompaniment, and recording of a similar vintage to that of RCA's London-made opera sets.
-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [12/1973]
reviewing the original LP release
Catalog Number: RCA 5999
Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Conductor: Edward Downes, Nello Santi
Orchestra/Ensemble: Ambrosian Opera Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, New Philharmonia Orchestra
Performer: Daniele Barioni, Elisabeth Bainbridge, Leontyne Price, Placido Domingo