Leontyne Price


Schubert Club Performances:

  • April 6, 1961
  • October 9, 1983
  • January 8, 1985
  • January 4, 1987

From humble beginnings in Laurel, Mississippi, Leontyne Price went on to become one of the foremost sopranos of the last century. A wealthy white local family made it possible for her to attend Juilliard, where Virgil Thomson heard and promptly cast her in his all-Black Gertrude Stein opera Four Saints in Three Acts. After that, she sang Gershwin’s Bess in a production that toured the US and Europe. On returning home, she was engaged in 1953 to sing Summertime at a Metropolitan “opera jamboree”, and that year she gave a recital with composer Samuel Barber at the piano that featured the world premiere of his Hermit Songs. A song from the live recording:

(At the height of her career, Price would make this matchless recording of Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915:

Although she scored a great success as Tosca on NBC TV in 1955, opportunities were still limited for African American opera singers. Her major house debut took place in San Francisco in 1957, and in the following year came her European debut, singing Aida in Vienna under Herbert von Karajan, by then one of Price’s most important mentors. In 1960, in Rome, she made one of the most beautiful of her early recordings, showcasing the two composers for whom she would always show a special affinity, Verdi and Puccini. From the latter’s Turandot, this is Liù’s aria “Signore, ascolta”:

In 1961 – the year of her first Schubert Club recital – Price finally made her debut on the stage that would become her artistic home, the Metropolitan, in Verdi’s Il trovatore. This excerpt was filmed around that time:

In 1963 in Vienna, she made one of her greatest recordings, singing Bizet’s Carmen with Karajan:

By 1983, the year of her second Schubert Club visit, Price was still active as a recitalist but nearing the end of her triumphant reign on the opera stage. Her farewell appearance, on January 3, 1985 at the Met, was in the role she had made her own, Verdi’s Aida. This excerpt reveals the astonishing freshness of her voice at this late stage of her career, and the long, emotional ovation conveys a sense of the event:

A few days later, Leontyne Price was in St. Paul again, helping inaugurate the Ordway Music Theatre. She was an obvious choice for the Schubert Club’s first recital in its new home. From the live recording of that recital on January 8, 1985 comes this rousing rendition of the spiritual “Ride On, King Jesus”

Artist Note by Richard Evidon

From the Schubert Club Archive:

Program from Price’s April 1961 concert

Click to View Full Image

The day before her Schubert Club debut, Price was featured in the St. Paul Pioneer Press praising the accessibility of U.S. music education. Price herself was entirely American-trained at this point in her career.

Click to View Full Image

Price’s 1961 concert received much acclaim in this 1961 review in the Pioneer Press, the writer noting the singer’s robust yet agile voice. Indeed, Price was what was known as a “lirico-spinto,” a type of operatic soprano capable of both lyric and climactic singing.

Click to View Full Image

As noted in this local news clipping, Price’s 1961 concert at St. Paul Auditorium was so well-attended that Schubert Club offered “standing-room only” tickets for the first time in its history.

Click to View Full Image

A 1983 promotional poster of Price from her management company

Click to View Full Image

Program from Price’s 1983 concert. As in her 1961 performances, she delivered classical works as well as traditional African-American spirituals

Click to View Full Image

Price chatting with Schubert Club board member Polly Ordway Wallace backstage at O’Shaugnessy Auditorium after her 1983 concert

Click to View Full Image

Review in the Star-Tribune of Price’s 1983 concert

Click to View Full Image

Curtain call at Price’s 1985 concert with pianist David Garvey

Click to View Full Image

An 1986 article from the Twin Cities Courrier advertising Price’s 1987 celebration concert for the Ordway’s 2-year anniversary

Click to View Full Image

Program from Price’s 1987 concert

Click to View Full Image

Review in the St. Paul Pioneer Press of Price’s 1987 performance

Review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune of Price’s 1987 performance

Click to View Full Image
Artist Archive