Leontyne Price - Prima Donna Collection
''Leontyne Price—Prima Donna'' was the title given to a series of LPs, the first two conducted by Molinari-Pradelli, issued here in 1967 and 1968. They were followed by a third with Sir Edward Downes, and a fourth and fifth, neither of which has been issued in the UK before, under Nello Santi and Henry Lewis. Each volume had the same format, one classical aria to kick off, and one twentieth-century one to end, sandwiching a programme of mostly nineteenth-century favourites. For this CD reissue Vols. 1, 2, 3 and 5 have been left as programmed, Vol. 4 has been split up and sprinkled here and there. This works mostly quite well, except in Vol. 1. This remains the best of the series, indeed one of the most fascinating and satisfying operatic recital discs ever made. Price was at the very peak of her form when she recorded it. The opening is a tour de force of dramatic singing. Dido, the Countess Almaviva, and Violetta follow one another, each with a stream of beautiful tone—a sound which in the theatre in my experience has never been equalled—and while I do not think Price ever sang these roles on stage, she differentiates sufficiently between the characters and musical styles so that it becomes a lesson in microphone singing.
Throughout she is recorded rather close, which exaggerates a certain breathiness in her delivery which was never apparent in the theatre or concert-hall, and certainly exposes her somewhat careful diction in French, German and Czech (Rusalka). The hiccup on the first CD when one passes from her not very idiomatic but nevertheless lusciously-sung ''Depuis le jour'' to an over-cautious ''In questa reggia'' is a jolt. The ten years separating the two items had taken the bloom off the voice, and anyway the Turandot can only ever have been a stunt. Price was a superb Liu, but can never have been a consideration for the title-role.
The arias are divided between those from operas she performed but never recorded commercially (Don Giovanni, Thais, Carmelites); those in which she would obviously have been marvellous had she done them (Macbeth, Damnation de Faust, above all Barber's Vanessa and Menotti's Amelia, two of the most valuable tracks), and those which must just be counted as souvenir's of a singer's curiosity, either too heavy (Norma, Isolde) or too light (Gilda, Rosalinda).
There are surprises. The Soliloquy and Prayer from Gloriana (in 1979, I think, the first recording of any of Elizabeth's music) has a thrust and drama to it that reminds one that Price was a rarity among superstars of her era and consistently paid attention to the works of modern composers. One of her first successes was in Rome in 1952, singing scenes from Lou Harrison's
Hers was a voice that needed a big theatre in which to sound its best, and she was a highly emotional performer who benefited from the audience's reaction. Nevertheless these studio performances are a gorgeous memento of one of the most beautiful voices of our own, or any, time. A collection for voice-addicts but also useful for anyone exploring the soprano repertory in general. If you are still in doubt, listen to ''Sur mes genoux'' from