Dame Margaret Price has died at her home near Cardigan in Wales aged 69. Her pure, warm, lyric soprano will always be associated with the music of Mozart, a composer whose music ran through her career like a thread. In 1962 she made her stage debut as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro for Welsh National Opera and, as a young singer at Covent Garden later that year, she took over the role from an ailing Teresa Berganza: her career took off overnight. Her first major recording was as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte under Otto Klemperer (EMI). And she would go on to perform and record the roles of the Countess (Figaro), Pamina (Die Zauberflöte) and Donna Anna (Don Giovanni). She also sang the soprano part on Peter Schreier’s Gramophone Award-winning recording of the Requiem (a disc that had critic Robin Golding commenting that she sang the part “more beautifully than I can remember ever hearing it”).
Though her career took to the world’s great houses, her dislike of travel meant that she always preferred to make her base with a particular company, first Covent Garden, then the Cologne Opera and finally the Bavarian State Opera in Munich where she lived until her retirement in 1999.
Like many Mozart sopranos, Price also excelled in the music of Richard Strauss and her stage roles included Ariadne auf Naxos. Sadly, she never made a commercial recording of a work she was perfectly suited to, Strauss’s Four Last Songs (though she was due to record the work for CBS with Michael Tilson Thomas). She also included a number of Verdi roles in her repertoire and was a memorable Desdemona in Otello (the role with which she made her Met debut in 1985, and which she recorded twice – once with Solti for Decca and then with Alain Lombard for Forlane). She also sang Amelia (Un ballo in maschera – an opera she recorded alongside Pavarotti for Decca). The most surprising addition to her repertoire was on record as Isolde in the DG recording of Wagner’s opera under Carlos Kleiber, a conductor with whom she often worked.
She was an enthusiastic and much-admired Lieder singer whose repertoire embraced the great Romantic masters, Schubert (she is represented in Hyperion’s Schubert Edition), Schumann, Brahms and Strauss. Her song repertoire extended to the Second Viennese School (she recorded Berg’s Altenberg Lieder with Abbado for DG) and she also performed and recorded French and Spanish songs. She worked often with the pianist and conductor James Lockhart whom she first encountered as a répétiteur at Covent Garden, with Geoffrey Parsons and later with Graham Johnson (recording with all them).
Price was awarded the CBE in 1982 followed by the DBE in 1993, and both the State Operas of Munich and Vienna honoured her with the title Kammersängerin.