Let’s face it–at 70, Leontyne Price no longer has quite the command of the agile, bewitching instrument that made her America’s prima donna in the 60s and 70s. So, what has compelled this proud, reclusive soprano to embark on a concert tour in the twilight of her career? I suppose it’s The Essential Leontyne Price, a set of 11 CDs just released by BMG Classics that summarizes and celebrates her notable accomplishments in opera houses, recital halls, and recording studios. It surveys the signature Verdi and Puccini roles that made her the Met’s house diva for over two decades, but it also contains arias and duets for roles such as Carmen that she deemed unsuitable to attempt onstage. What’s more, it emphasizes again and again her American roots, with songs by Samuel Barber (whose Antony and Cleopatra was written for her to open the new Met in 1966) and from Porgy and Bess (with which she conquered Europe in the early 50s); also included are quite a few spirituals–a lifelong love for the descendant of Baptist ministers. Price has always been a confident, gifted singer with wide dramatic range, and at its ripest her voice was capacious and ravishing–hallmarks that made her interpretations of Aida and Butterfly definitive. But just as admirably she was the first such singer to perform for integrated audiences (in her hometown of Laurel, Mississippi). On the Chicago stop of her tour, Price is sure to stir up memories of her past glories with a program of some of her greatest hits. “Un bel di” from Madama Butterfly is offered, of course, alongside arias from Mozart’s Idomeneo and Handel’s Giulio Cesare. There are also songs by Strauss, Berlioz, and Duparc; her beloved Barber is represented too. And, as usual, a couple of spirituals will wrap up this love fest. Neal Goren will accompany the legend on the piano. Sunday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Jack Mitchell.