Leontyne Price


The online opera guide on Leontyne Price

Read the short biography of Leontyne Price and listen to highlights of her career. The famous critic John Steane called her the Verdi Soprano of the Century.


The ascent

Price was born in Mississippi in 1927. She gained stage experience in 1952 with a tour of Porgy&Bess which also took her to Europe. Herbert von Karjan had heard her at an audition in the Carnegie Hall. He repeatedly jumped on stage and accompanied her at the piano. He engaged her to the Vienna State Opera. Her debut took place with Aida. Her debut followed on the Met, whose triumph is described in the blog post on the Trovatore.

Tacea la notte (Il Trovatore)  –  Price


But she was dissatisfied with the engagements at the Met, because she was only allowed to sing the daily repertoire roles for the most part.


The first black Primadonna at the Met

The return to the Met under the artistic director James Levine was then triumphant. She was the first black prima donna. She was called “The stradivarius of singers”. Bing, the longtime director of the Metropolitan Opera, helped Leontyne Price to win the role of Primadonna. In his book “5000 Evenings at the Opera”, he explained how difficult this was in the first years – for example, when he took his prima donna to the hotel restaurant on a MET tour in the southern states in the evening and immediately and an icy silence was laid over the hall when she entered. In Atlanta, where she sang “The Girl from the Golden West”, they didn’t even want to let her into the white hotel – Leontyne Price comments: “Don’t worry, Mr. Bing, I’m sure you will find a place for me and my horse.”


Her repertoire

The roles with which she made the strongest impression were the Leonoras from Forza del Destino and Trovatore, the Aida, Tosca and Carmen.

La vergine degli angeli (La forza del destino)  –  Price


“However, she did not venture into the classical and romantic repertoire of Belcaqnto, although she described the encounter with Maria Callas in the 1950s as one of the most important artistic experiences of her life. The reason for this is easy to see: Price never possessed the technique to sing the music of  the canto fiorite”. (Kesting)


Her voice

Almost everyone who has ever heard Leontyne Price, whether artist or critic, has talked about the intoxication, the blissful rapture, into which they have been brought by the sound of this voice. Once heard, the simultaneously smoky and luminous, dark and sensuously tender sound is so quickli is not forgotten. (Kesting)

Habanera (Carmen) – Price



The famous critic John Steane called her the Verdi Soprano of the Century. Her repertoire was rather narrow and her singing technique was not similar to that of other singers. However the role embodiments of Leonora, Aida and Carmen have lasting value.


More highlights of Leontyne Price’s recordings


A Terzetto from Il Trovatore with Placido Domingo, Leontyne Price and  Sherril Milnes.

E deggio posso crederlo  –  Price/Domingo/Milnes


L’amour est un oiseau rebelle  –  Price


Listen to this pieces with in a  recording conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante  –  Price


Price was an excellent Carmen, very sensual and exotic. Listen to «Près des remparts de Séville» with Leontyne Price. It is an aria by Carmen from the first act, where she seduces Don José to release him, after she has been arrested. Fischer: «Whoever has such a pronounced sound character as she does, whose voice exudes a downright sexual scent, will not be in the right place as Violetta or Butterfly, as Adriana Lecouvreur or as Elisabetta in Don Carlos, but when she sang Aida and Carmen, Leonora and Tosca, then one could hardly escape the effect of this vocal cat of prey.»

Près des remparts de Seville  –  Price


The famous Vissi d’arte from Puccinis Tosca.

Vissi d’arte (2) –  Price


Lets go to the famous O patria mia. Fischer describes her voice as follows: «As an actress on stage, Leontyne Price remained clichéd in gestures from old opera days. The thing she was great at was her phenomenal voice material and its artistic use. The often described guttural sound of afro american singers could not be found in her voice, but she possessed what the English language calls «smoky». She sang with two clearly separated voice colours: The extraordinarily lush middle range and the deep range, reminiscent of an alto, had that smoky character, the fluent high range sounded bright and clear, and remained unstrained to the highest regions.» (Fischer, Grosse Stimmen).

O patria mia   –  Price


You will hear the Price/Vickers in the last act of Aida.

O terra addio   –  Price/Vickers/Solti


Leontyne Price is probably the operatic blueprint of the interpretation of Gershwin’s famous song.  She was part of the 1952 world tour cast that produced the opera’s worldwide breakthrough and later one of the greatest soprano of the  after war period. The recording is from the 1963 RCA recording.

Summertime – Price


This song was also sung by many famous singers, including Ella Fitzgerald and Leontyne Price.  We hear Leontyne Price’s great voice with an interpretation that goes through marrow and leg.

My man’s gone now  –  Price


Gershwin wrote a rapturous melody for the love duet. A beautiful version with Leontyne Price and William Warfield

Bess, You Is My Woman Now (2)  –  Warfield / Price


Pace, pace is Leonora’s prayer, her plea for peace, which she will not achieve on earth and longs for her death (“Oh God, let me die”). Hardly any other aria lets the desperation of a woman feel so directly, and it offers the singer many opportunities to captivate the listener.

It begins with a shattering cry “Pace” (“Peace”), with a swelling sound, it must sound full of warmth and despair and immediately seize the listener. Her voice is accompanied by sighing wind instruments and the harp. In addition to the piano parts of the first part, the angelic (written in pianissimo!) high Bb in the middle part and the dramatic “maledizione” at the end form the great highlights of this aria.

Steane described Leontyne Price “as the best Verdi soprano of the 20th century”. One can argue about that, of course, but her “Pace, pace” is one of the few that play in the league of Tebaldi’s interpretation. Her “smoky” voice has a fascinating timbre in the low passages and the piano part at the beginning is great and the maledizione has a goose skin factor.

Pace, pace mio Dio  –  Price






Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide on Leontyne Price





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