Title: Verdi – Aida
Artist: Leontyne Price; Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma; Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Format: 2 CDs + 1 Blu-ray Audio (Deluxe Edition)
Release Date: June 30, 2017
On February 10, 2017, the great soprano Leontyne Price celebrated her 90th birthday. The occasion was marked by numerous articles, including an online tribute by NPR Classical, which referred to Price as the “first real [African American] superstar” who was “among the very best Verdi sopranos of her time.” In that article, Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page offered the following thoughts on what he considered to be one of Price’s most notable recordings:
“In my opinion, still the best performance of Aida I know on record would be [Leontyne Price] with tenor Jon Vickers. There’s a sense of longing to it. There’s a real identification and loneliness, an ease in the high notes, as well as the medium range. There’s fierce musical intelligence and emotional intensity. The singing with Jon Vickers is extraordinary. There you had two spirits who were very much in alignment—the ferocity, the tenderness. It’s beautiful, it’s songful, it’s grand. It’s a marvelous statement from a great artist.”
The Aida referenced above was recorded in Rome in June and July, 1961, with the Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma conducted by Sir Georg Solti and featuring the “Verdi dream cast” of Price, Vickers, Robert Merrill, Rita Gorr, and Giorgio Tozzi. Produced by Richard Mohr with engineers Lewis Layton and René Boux, the RCA Living Stereo recording won the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 1962.
Price was at her peak during this period, in terms of both vocal prowess and international stardom, and by 1961 had been performing the role of Aida for several years. A few months prior, in January of 1961, she also made her début at the Metropolitan Opera House, where her legendary opening night performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore received a 42 minute standing ovation. This occurred six years to the month after Marian Anderson paved the way as the first black woman to sing at the Met.
In honor of Price’s 90th birthday, Decca just released a special deluxe edition of her 1961 recording of Verdi’s Aida. Though reissued numerous times over the years, many of these recordings have been criticized for poor sound quality, having been dubbed from LPs. This three disc set is newly remastered from original analog sources by former Decca engineer Paschal Byrne. Since CDs don’t support sampling rates greater than 44.1 kHz, the third disc is a Pure Audio Blu-ray featuring 96kHz/24-bit high fidelity sound. The hard-back edition includes liner notes by William Weaver, an essay on the recording by Richard Mohr, as well as the libretto and synopsis in English, German and French translations.
If you don’t already have one of the recent reissues of Leontyne Price’s 1961 Aida, then this deluxe edition is highly recommended if you have a Blu-ray player.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss