Mary Violet Leontyne Price (born February 10, 1927) is an American soprano who was the first African American soprano to receive international acclaim. From 1961 she began a long association with the Metropolitan Opera, where she was the first African American to be a leading performer. She regularly appeared at the world's major opera houses, the Royal Opera House, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and La Scala, the latter of which she was also the first African American to sing a leading role. She was particularly renowned for her performances of the title role in Verdi's Aida.
Born in Laurel, Mississippi, Price attended Central State University and then Juilliard, where she had her operatic debut as Mistress Ford in Verdi's Falstaff. Having heard the performance, Virgil Thomson engaged her in Four Saints in Three Acts and she then toured—starring alongside her husband William Warfield—in a successful revival of Gerswhin's Porgy and Bess. Numerous concert performances followed, such as a recital at the Library of Congress with composer Samuel Barber on piano. Her 1955 performance in a televised performance of Puccini's Tosca and appearances at the San Francisco Opera as Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites and Aida brought her to international attention. She then performed at the world's major opera houses with Aida, before a successful debut at the Metropolitan Opera (Met) in 1961 as Leonora in Verdi's Il trovatore. Continuing her career there, she starred in a multitude of operas for 20 years, securing her place among the leading performers of her time. One of these works was Barber's Antony and Cleopatra, which she starred in for its world premiere. She made her farewell opera performance at the Met in 1985 in Aida.
A lirico spinto (Italian for "pushed lyric") soprano, her musical interpretations were subtle but often overshadowed her acting. She was noted for her roles in operas by Mozart and Puccini as well as Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare and Poppea in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea. However, the "middle period" operas of Verdi remain her greatest triumph: Aida, the Leonoras of Il trovatore and La forza del destino, and Amelia in Un ballo in maschera. Her performances in these works, as well as Mozart and Puccini's operas survive in her many recordings.
After her retirement from opera, she continued to appear in recitals and orchestral concerts until 1997. After that, she came out of retirement to sing at special events, including a memorial concert for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in Carnegie Hall in 2001. Among her many honors and awards are the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964; and 19 Grammy Awards.
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