Dame Margaret Price: Opera singer noted for her tonal splendour and celebrated for her Mozart and Verdi interpretations

Elizabeth Forbes
Wednesday 02 February 2011 01:00

The Welsh soprano Margaret Price had one of the most beautiful voices of thesecond half of the 20th century. Lustrous in tone and smooth-textured, it was also extremely flexible – her trill was quite amazing – and perfectly graduated from a thread of sound to a full-blooded forte. In the earlier part of her career she wasfamous for her singing of Mozart, but as her voice grew in power, without losing its beauty, she widened her repertory to take on certain roles by Verdi and Richard Strauss. Always conscious of the dramatic importof whatever she was singing, whether German Lieder or Italian opera,Price never sacrificed words to sheer tonal splendour.

Born in 1941 in Blackwood, Monmouth (now Gwent), Price wanted to be a biologist, but won a scholarship to the Trinity College of Music in London. At first she intended to be a concert and recital singer, but winning the Kathleen Ferrier Award turned her mind towards opera and she made her debut in 1962 as Cherubino in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro with Welsh National Opera. The same year she went on stage at Covent Garden in the same role for an indisposed Teresa Berganza, creating a sensation. The publicity earned her a spot on Saturday Night at the Palladium but very little from the Royal Opera, where in 1963 she sang a Page in Lohengrin and some extra performances of Cherubino.

At this time Price was a mezzo, but the conductor James Lockwood felt her voice lay much higher, and helped her retrain as a soprano. In 1965 she sang Zerlina in Mozart's Don Giovanni for Scottish Opera. Two years later she appeared on BBC 2 as a greatly admired Tatyana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. She then sang Tytania in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Galatea in Handel's Acis and Galatea for the English Opera Group, both at Aldeburgh and in Montreal for Expo 67. The following year brought two new Mozart roles, Constanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Glyndebourne and Pamina in The Magic Flute at Covent Garden.

Price returned to Covent Garden in 1969 to sing Marzelline in Beethoven's Fidelio, conducted by Otto Klemperer. She went back to Welsh National to sing an enchanting Nannetta in Verdi's Falstaff and during the next two seasons also sang Amelia in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, Mimi in Puccini's La Bohème and Pamina with WNO.

She made her US debut at San Francisco singing Pamina, followed by Nannetta and, in 1970, Fiordiligi in Mozart's Così fan tutte. She made another important debut at the Munich State Opera in 1971, when she repeated Amelia in Simon Boccanegra.

For the next five years Pricerevelled – there is no other word – in the three great soprano roles in Mozart's Da Ponte operas: Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, the Countess Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro and Fiordiligi. She sang Donna Anna and Fiordiligi at the Vienna State Opera and at the Paris Opéra; she sang Fiordiligi and the Countess in Chicago and Cologne; she made her debut at La Scala, Milan, as Fiordiligi; and she sang all three at Covent Garden. They were wonderfully sung and splendidly characterised in perfect style. Perhaps Donna Anna was the finest, but Fiordiligi and the Countess were just as effective, and affecting.

During the next decade of Price's career, Verdi superseded Mozart in her repertory. She became a particularly fine exponent of Desdemona in Otello, which she sang in Paris, Washington, Vienna, San Francisco, Chicago and at Covent Garden, usually with Placido Domingo as partner. Another favourite Verdi role was Elisabeth in Don Carlos, which she first sang in Cologne, gave a single, televised performance at La Scala, repeated in Munich and later sang at the Metropolitan, New York, in Barcelona and at Orange. She sang Aida in San Francisco and Amelia in Un ballo in maschera in Chicago and at Covent Garden, but they were, though as always, immaculately sung, not really suitable for her.

Much better was the title role of Bellini's Norma, which she first sang in Zurich in 1977 and repeated at Covent Garden in 1987. The latterproduction was not much liked, but Price was vocally in her element. She gave some admired performances of the title role of Verdi's early operaGiovanna d'Arco in Hamburg in 1983. The following year she took on two new roles in Munich, the title roles of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur and Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos. Ariadne was greatly liked but not repeated. Adriana was even more popular and was repeated in concert at Bonn and, in 1992, at Amsterdam.

The following year, having received the CBE in 1982, Price was awarded the DBE in the New Year Honours for 30 years of glorious music-making.

Margaret Berenice Price, concert, recital and opera singer, born Blackwood, Monmouth 13 April 1941; CBE 1982; DBE 1993; died Cardigan 28 January 2011.

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