Legendary American soprano Leontyne Price celebrates her 90th birthday on February 10. This coincides with the 50th anniversary season of the Metropolitan Opera at its present Lincoln Center home. The premiere of American composer Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra christened the new opera house on September 16, 1966, a suitably grand-scaled work based on Shakespeare’s tragedy and written especially for Price as Cleopatra. Price and the Metropolitan Opera were almost synonymous in the 1960s, beginning with the thunderous acclaim that greeted her house debut in 1961 (a co-debut on January 27th with tenor Franco Corelli). Price came to the Met just as she reached the prime of a great career; her performances were a highlight of each season in which she sang.
Leontyne Price, 1981 – Photograph by Jack Mitchell, CC BY-SA
When the announcement of Antony and Cleopatra was made, Barber and Price had been artistic collaborators for more than a decade. A singer himself, the composer knew Price’s voice and what it could do, and that shaped his conception of the opera’s heroine. “Every vowel,” he told The New York Times, “was placed with Leontyne’s voice in mind.” The Met’s CD presentation of Antony and Cleopatra in its newly-released inaugural season box set is the first release of the original version of the work, the sole other recording (Spoleto, 1983) being Barber’s 1975 revision, which differs significantly. Price’s Town Hall recital debut in 1954 featured the first New York performance of Barber’s Hermit Songs. The previous year, Price had sung the premiere of the work at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., with Barber at the piano (October 30, 1953), a performance likewise preserved on recording (Loeb Music Library, CD 12283 (HOLLIS record)).
-Robert J. Dennis
Other birthday tributes
In this post, we take a look at a few new and newly-catalogued recordings from the collections, including a set of communist songs from the mid-1930s, reissues of early 20th century 78s by the Egyptian singer Yusuf Al-Manyalawi, and a test pressing of a Duke Ellington alternate take.
From among our Peggy Stuart Coolidge collection recently surfaced three unique 78s which include music by Hanns Eisler recorded around the time of his first visit to the United States in early 1935. These valuable documents have labels with beautiful graphics and contain six communist songs featuring a chorus conducted by Lan Adomian, baritones Mordecai Bauman and Felix Groveman, and alternately Marc Blitzstein and Eisler himself at the piano. Songs include “United Front,” “The Soup Song,” “The Internationale,” “We’ve Not Forgotten,” “In Praise of Learning,” and “Rise Up.”
Label image, United Front, 528 Timely Recording Co. Record Coll. 78-36632
Label image, The soup song, 525 Timely Recording Co. Record Coll. 78-36632
- United Front; The soup song / Hanns Eisler. N.Y.C.: Timely Recording Co., [1936?]. 528 Timely Recording Co. 525 Timely Recording Co.
Record Coll. 78-36632
Label image, The internationale, 526 Timely Recording Co. Record Coll. 78-36633
Label image, Forward! We’ve not forgotten, 529 Timely Recording Co. Record Coll. 78-36633
- The internationale / music by Pierre Degeyter. Forward! We’ve not forgotten / music by Hanns Eisler. N.Y.C.: Timely Recording Co., [193-?]. 526 Timely Recording Co. 529 Timely Recording Co.
Record Coll. 78-36633
Label image, In praise of learning, 527 Timely Recording. Record Coll. 78-36634
Label image, Rise up, 530 Timely Recording Co. Record Coll. 78-36634
- In praise of learning; Rise up / music by Hanns Eisler. N.Y.C.: Timely Recording Co., [1936?]. 527 Timely Recording Co. 530 Timely Recording Co.
Record Coll. 78-36634
Complementing our collection of original Gramophone “Monarch” 78rpm recordings by Egyptian singer Yusuf Al-Manyalawi, we recently acquired this impressive box set produced by the Foundation for Arab Music Archiving and Research (AMAR). The Voice of the Nahda Era contains 10 CDs of recordings by Manyalawi made between 1907 and 1910, as well as two books, one in French and English by music historian Frédéric Lagrange and the other in Arabic by Prof. Muhsen Sawa and AMAR president Mustapha Said.
Cover, “The voice of the Nahda era”: Yusuf Al-Manyalawi: the works (1847-1911). Archive of World Music AC 43
- “The voice of the Nahda era”: Yusuf Al-Manyalawi: the works (1847-1911). Lebanon: Foundation for Arab Music Archiving and Research, .
Archive of World Music AC 43
Ellington Test Pressing
Next comes another recording from the year 1935. We recently purchased an original vinyl test pressing of one of Duke Ellington’s small group sessions. Take no. 2 of the tune “Indigo Echoes” was ultimately chosen for release, but this was an unissued alternate take (no. 1: matrix B-16976-1). Both were recorded in New York on March 5, 1935 and featured Rex Stewart, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Wellman Braud and Billy Taylor. You can hear this alternate take on the Mosaic set entitled Duke Ellington: The Complete 1936-1940 Variety, Vocalion and Okeh Small Group Sessions (Record Coll. AC 36801).
Label image, Duke Ellington’s Sextet, “Indigo echoes,” B-16976-1 Brunswick. Record Coll. 78-36631