wed 29/05/2024

Dame Margaret Price, 1941-2011 | reviews, news & interviews

Dame Margaret Price, 1941-2011

Dame Margaret Price, 1941-2011

A soprano with a voice of liquid gold

Dame Margaret Price: A soprano with a voice of liquid gold

Perhaps her greatest achievement on disc is a role she would never have attempted in the theatre, Wagner's Isolde. Supported by the great Carlos Kleiber, the sheer meaning and luminous tone colours Price brings to every line make this one of the glories of recorded history.

Below, Margaret Price sings Wagner's Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde

At the other end of the repertoire, Price excelled in Mozart. A distinguished voice coach I know singles out a radio broadcast of a Mozart mass as the most perfect piece of singing he's ever heard. The lyric quality could stretch from Susanna - on disc, at least; her physique was never going to make Price a convincingly pert lady's maid onstage - to a more strenuous role like Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. Here she is in a live performance of "Non mi dir" from Don Giovanni.

Below, Margaret Price sings Mozart's "Non mi dir" from Don Giovanni

There was also perfection in Verdi and in lieder, Strauss especially; again, I'd single out as the single greatest song recital I've heard one of Price's Wigmore Hall recitals. Not enough of her lieder repertoire is available on YouTube, but here's a sample: two Schubert songs with Wolfgang Sawallisch as her accompanist, including the ineffable Shepherd on the Rock with its elaborate part for clarinet alongside voice and piano.

Below, Margaret Price sings Schubert lieder

We saw Price less often here in the years leading up to her 1999 retirement, and an appearance as Bellini's Norma at Covent Garden was not a success; it was Munich which treasured a great voice more consistently. It's been said her heart was broken by the end of her relationship with coach, pianist and conductor James Lockhart, but she achieved a measure of happiness in later years breeding dogs in a small Welsh seaside town, where she died from heart failure on 28 January. Fortunately, there's an abundance of recordings to remember her by.


Among her many accomplishments, for me she was also the finest singer of Liszt's songs.

Coincidental that you mention that, Roger, as I'd been hunting for her Liszt Petrarch Sonnets on YouTube to put up here, and like so many of her finest song recordings, they're not up there. But I have that 1971 Wigmore recital at home, and listened with amazement not just to the flawless legato but also to her characterising skills in Musorgsky's The Nursery. Elsewhere we've been reminded of unexpected treasures: 'The sun goeth down' in the Boult recording of Elgar's The Kingdom, and the wordless voice in his Vaughan Williams Pastoral Symphony. The list and the range go on.

How difficult to think that that marvellously cool, refined yet very womanly sound is now stilled. I have most of Margaret Price's recordings but only saw her once, in Cosi Fan Tutte in 1978 at Covent Garden : I can still hear the unforgettable elan of her singing of "Come scoglio'' in my head and the eruption of well-deserved applause at the end ,even though it was well over thirty years ago.Some giants have passed on during the last year: Sutherland, Mackerras -you are a fine member of their company, Dame Margaret.

Hers was the most sublime Isolde on record....peerless.

Yes, for me Price in 'The Sun Goeth Down' was incandescence itself, and her Schubert too some of the most joyous, sensitive things in singing. Who else though could be so unforgettable in Wagner AND Mozart? I hope she knew how piercingly she touched people with her singing.

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