Springfield Symphony Celebrates Legendary African-American Soprano Leontyne Price: From Modest Beginnings to Barrier Breaker

Monday Jan 30th, 2017

Ms. Price with Local Link to Western Mass., Studied at Tanglewood

JAN. 30, 2017, SPRINGFIELD, MASS. — The life of the legendary Leontyne Price has been one of many firsts: first internationally renowned African American opera singer, first African American to open the new Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, first African American to sing a leading role in Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. And on Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m., the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) will perform its first tribute to Price’s life and legacy in honor of Black History Month and her 90th birthday.

Born in Mississippi in 1927, Price faced Jim Crow laws and segregation, but her extraordinary singing voice was the impetus for an exceptional rise to international stardom, including a summer in the Opera Program at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, a scholarship to Juilliard School in New York City and her discovery by Herbert von Karajan and friendship with Samuel Barber, two of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century.

Despite her triumphant string of “firsts,” however, in the Nov. 2014 issue of Opera News, Philip Kennicott writes of how her success was “dogged by the ugliness of racism, too.” Yet, with her determination and talent, she preserved and overcame and ore down racial barriers.

Kennicott, in his Opera News, article, summed up her success: By the early 50s, “an astonishing number of incredibly gifted African-Americans were singing there…. But they didn’t get there by any ordinary measure of talent. They got there because they were super, exceptionally talented, far beyond the measure of what it would have taken for a white singer to earn a place on the Met’s stage.”

The SSO’s celebration of Price’s ground-breaking international stardom will include performances from some of her signature roles, including Verdi’s Aida and Puccini’s Tosca. The concert will conclude with two scenes specifically written for Price by American composer Samuel Barber in his work Antony and Cleopatra.

The SSO’s Musical Director & Conductor, Kevin Rhodes, who designed this tribute, said, “Leontyne Price was one of the most inspirational and influential artists to me when I was a young student of music…. Of all the things I could say about the incredible artistry of Leontyne Price, the most meaningful is that she inspired me to be better than I was.” 

Visiting soprano Othalie Graham will join the SSO in giving voice to Price’s best-known works. Graham is not a stranger to the Springfield stage, having brought down the house at last year’s memorable Black History Month performance, Porgy and Bess.

“When I was thirteen years old, my father got tickets for my mother and me to see Leontyne Price,” Ms. Graham recalled. She was the first opera singer that I saw perform. The audience was screaming for fifteen minutes before she could even open her mouth. I remember being in awe of her regal beauty and elegance. Her megawatt smile lit the entire theater and every gesture she made was as elegant as a ballerina's. Her voice was so beautiful and I hung on her every syllable!” The young Othalie got to meet Ms. Price that day. “To be able to honor Mme. Price with this performance means so much to me,” she concluded. 

Maestro Rhodes also has had a personal experience with Ms. Price. “When I was a freshman in college, she sang a recital at my school and I was asked to turn pages for her pianist and got to be backstage with her and onstage during the performance. That was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. “

In addition to the concert tribute to Ms. Price, the SSO will host the Stone Soul Festival Committee Legacy Awards, recognizing leaders of the Springfield community. The Legacy Awards will take place prior to A Life in Opera—Celebrating Leontyne Price in the Mahogany Room at Springfield Symphony Hall. A concert ticket is required to attend this event. Mention “Stone Soul” when purchasing the ticket.

Tickets for this spectacular operatic concert are available for $22 - $65 at springfieldsymphony.org or by visiting our Box Office at 1441 Main Street, Springfield, Mass. All concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. in Springfield Symphony Hall, 34 Court Street, Springfield, Mass.


Classical Conversations Pre-Concert Discussions

The SSO offers an informal half-hour discussion about the composers and musical programs featured before the Concert at 6:30 p.m. in Symphony Hall. The discussion will be led by Maestro Kevin Rhodes.


Dinner & the Symphony Program Provides Convenience When Visiting City

In order to make the trip into the city stress-free, the SSO is offering an all-inclusive package that includes transportation, a three-course dinner at the Student Prince Restaurant and the best seats in the house for the concert. Transportation will be covered with a round-trip luxury ride from Wilbraham and Longmeadow to the restaurant, Symphony Hall and back to the pick-up location. This all-inclusive package is $90 per person. Reservations and information are available by calling the SSO Box Office at 413-733-2291.