by Mark G. Auerbach
The legendary American soprano Leontyne Price turned 90 on February 10, and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra with Kevin Rhodes on the podium and soprano Othalie Graham, who left audiences breathless last season when the SSO performed excerpts from The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, came to celebrate Price.
Leontyne Price made unprecedented strides in her career in opera and classical music. She took on challenging roles. She gave exquisite performances which combined classical artistry, fine-tuned technique, and a commanding stage presence. Sir Rudolf Bing chose Samuel Barber’s new opera Antony and Cleopatra to open the new Metropolitan House at Lincoln Center. Franco Zeffirelli supplied the libretto, Thomas Schippers conducted, and Miss Price played Cleopatra–an incredible milestone for her.
Leontyne Price also opened doors for other singers of color on the opera stages of the world, just as Marian Anderson had been a pioneer before her. Because of Price, artists such as Grace Bumbry, Barbara Hendricks, Kathleen Battle, Denyce Graves, and Othalie Graham have been able to carve out impressive careers in an opera world that has become color-blind to casting.
Kevin Rhodes provided the narrative of the Leontyne Price story, and showcased Price’s “greatest hits” which in turn, showcased Miss Graham, who has a beautiful instrument, solid technique, and the requisite acting ability to turn each song into a story. Her rendering of “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca was magnificent; her performance of two scenes from Antony and Cleopatra was fascinating.
Maestro Rhodes, whose career has been celebrated in the opera houses of Europe, balanced the orchestra’s performance with that of Graham’s, and each musical piece was a jewel in an ultimate crown. The Symphony got a chance to shine in some instrumental pieces from opera, including an overture to Aida added after the opera’s premiere and later dropped; the sensuous and riveting “Dance of The Seven Veils” from Salome, and the beautiful intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut.
The Springfield Symphony Pops presents An Evening With The Irish Tenors on March 4 in Symphony Hall. On March 11, Maestro Rhodes and the Springfield Symphony perform music of Bruch and Mendelssohn with violinst Yevgeny Kutik on a program called Scotland: A Celebration. For details: 413-733-2291 or www.springfieldsymphony.org
The Springfield Symphony Orchestra presents A Life in Opera: Celebrating Leontyne Price. Kevin Rhodes, Music Director, Program: Verdi’s Aida: Prelude | Ritorna Vincitor| Ballet | O Patria Mia; Strauss’ Salome: Dance of the Seven Veils; Strauss’ The Egyptian Helen: Zweite Brautnacht; Puccini’s Manon Lescaut: Intermezzo from Act III; Puccini’s Tosca: Visi d’Arte; and Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra: Give Me Some Music | Death of Cleopatra. With Othalie Graham, soprano. February 18, Springfield Symphony Hall.
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio.