Opera Scotland

Margaret Price Suggest updates

Born Blackwood, Tredegar, 13 April 1941.
Died Ceibwr Bay, Pembrokeshire, 28 January 2011. 

Studies
London – Trinity College of Music, with Charles Kennedy Scott.


CBE 1982; DBE 1993. Kammersänger in Munich and Vienna.


Dame Margaret Price was one of the most internationally successful of British singers of her generation. During the height of her career she worked rarely in Britain, and actually lived in Munich for many years, although she moved back to Wales at the time of her retirement in 1999. Her voice was always of beautiful quality, with an almost aristocratic elegance of expression.

Her first musical interest was song in general and lieder in particular (ranging from Schubert and Schumann to Schoenberg and Berg). However she sang in opera throughout her career, but performed a relatively narrow repertoire, concentrating particularly on Mozart (Konstanze, Pamina, Countess, Donna Anna, Fiordiligi), and later a select group of Verdi works – Simon Boccanegra, Otello, Aïda, Don Carlos, and Un ballo in maschera, singing them in the world’s major houses. She sang only a handful of other parts.

The early years of her career saw her working with several British companies. After leaving college, she worked with the Ambrosian Singers in London. Her operatic debut, as Cherubino, was with Welsh National in 1962, and she repeated the role the following year at Covent Garden when she covered for an indisposed Teresa Berganza. The musical director, Georg Solti, was, it seems, unimpressed, and she did not return until 1968. She made her only appearances with Scottish Opera as Zerlina in a revival of Don Giovanni in 1965. She then worked for the BBC on two TV productions, as Tatyana in Eugene Onegin and Salud in La Vida Breve.  In 1967 there was a period with the English Opera Group, in The Impresario, The Beggar’s Opera, Acis and Galatea, and as Tytania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In 1968 she made her first appearance at Glyndebourne, as the Angel in Jephtha and then as Konstanze, returning there in that role and as Fiordiligi. She also returned to Covent Garden in 1968 as Pamina. Her only other appearances with Welsh National were as Pamina and in her first Verdi roles, Nannetta in Falstaff and Amelia in Simon Boccanegra.

By the early seventies, as her international career developed, her British operatic appearances were confined to Covent Garden, and even they were infrequent, with performances as Countess Almaviva, Donna Anna, Fiordiligi, Marzelline and Amelia (Un ballo in maschera). Her most celebrated appearances with the Royal Opera were in a legendary 1980 run of performances of Otello, with Plácido Domingo conducted by Carlos Kleiber. Her last new role at the London house was as Norma in 1987.

Her American debut came in 1969 with Pamina in San Francisco. She returned there regularly over the years, and also sang in Chicago from 1972. She first sang at the Met in Otello and Figaro as a member of the Paris Opera, but did not sing with the Met company until 1985, again with Domingo in Otello.

She made an immediate impression at her Cologne debut in 1971, as Donna Anna, and remained a favourite with audiences there and in Munich and Vienna, indeed using Munich as her base for the rest of her career. She sang her first Desdemona in Paris and Elisabetta in Don Carlos at La Scala, both with Domingo. Her first Norma was performed at Zurich.

Apart from the Scottish Opera role mentioned above, her visits to Scotland were only for concerts, and not frequent. At the Edinburgh Festival of 1981 she sang in two performances of the St Matthew Passion. These were not at the cutting edge of authentic performance style, but had a certain majestic power, with the LSO and Festival Chorus in full cry. The famous Christus and Evangelist pairing of Hermann Prey and Peter Schreier was joined for the arias by Price, Jessye Norman, Philip Langridge and Gwynne Howell, under the baton of Claudio Abbado. The following year saw a more appropriate engagement in the Verdi Requiem, with Carreras and Raimondi joining Price and Norman, with BBC cameras to record the event. In the following winter season, a projected four-city tour with the SNO in the Four Last Songs was cancelled.

 

Recordings.

Margaret Price’s recording career began with appearances on two Mozart sets conducted by Otto Klemperer. She sang the small role of Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro, but was promoted to Fiordiligi in the next enterprise, a recording of Così fan tutte in which she does not seem bothered by the very slow tempi that Klemperer adopted. Her reading of Konstanze was issued by EMI Classics for Pleasure in a disc of excerpts taped at Glyndebourne, though you would also need the Mozart recital disc conducted by James Lockhart to complete the set of that character’s arias. That disc also included “Parto, parto” from Clemenza, perhaps a relic of her early college years as a mezzo. The Mozart recital record and another of Schubert lieder, with Lockhart as pianist, are souvenirs of her great mentor and accompanist in those days, a young Scot who rarely worked in his homeland. Her greatest Mozart role, Donna Anna, is preserved on an excellent 1978 recording, conducted by Solti, who appears to have recognised the error of his ways. Only the last of these recordings has been regularly available on CD.

She recorded several oratorios, though her Messiah, from 1970, under Johannes Somary, is not particularly memorable. Her other major Handel recording, from 1972, was as Merab in Saul, with Sir Charles Mackerras and an excellent cast including Sheila Armstrong, James Bowman, Ryland Davies and Donald McIntyre. Earlier, in 1968, she had recorded an Elgar work, The Kingdom, under Sir Adrian Boult - and her rendering of ”The Sun goeth down” is intensely beautiful.

Her Verdi repertoire is represented by Solti’s first recording of Otello from 1977, with Carlo Cossutta and Gabriel Bacquier giving unusual and effective readings of Otello and Iago. Solti also chose her to record Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, with Pavarotti. She can be seen on DVD as Aïda in a staging from San Francisco, also with Pavarotti, and directed by Sam Wanamaker. There is a superb performance of the Verdi Requiem filmed in the Usher Hall at the 1982 Edinburgh Festival. Claudio Abbado conducts the LSO and Festival Chorus, and Price leads the wonderful solo quartet completed by Jessye Norman, José Carreras and Ruggero Raimondi.

She recorded several roles which were not in her usual repertoire, including Ariadne and Liù. One of her most memorable recordings is her one Wagner role, which she never sang in performance. In 1982 she was persuaded by Carlos Kleiber to take on the part of Isolde, and gives a lovely performance, supported by René Kollo as Tristan, Brigitte Fassbaender as Brangäne and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Kurwenal.

Roles in Scotland

Zerlina a peasant girl
Don Giovanni 1965
Soprano
Saint Matthew Passion 1981

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