Margaret Price

As Margaret Price’s father, although a talented amateur pianist, was initially opposed to her pursuing a career in music, she therefore intended to become a teacher of biology. When she was fifteen however, she visited Trinity College, London with her school music teacher and sang for Charles Kennedy Scott, the founder of the Oriana Choir. He insisted that she enter the College immediately and arranged a scholarship for her to study with him as a mezzo-soprano. After graduating she sang with the Ambrosian Singers while her father, now wholly supportive of her status as a professional singer, wrote to numerous opera companies seeking auditions for her.

Thus it was that Price made her operatic debut as Cherubino / Le nozze di Figaro with the Welsh National Opera in 1962. Having also auditioned for the Covent Garden Opera and been engaged as an understudy, she was soon called upon to appear on the stage of the Royal Opera House, substituting for Teresa Berganza as Cherubino in 1963, and becoming quickly well-known. During this time Price became close to the pianist and conductor James Lockhart, who persuaded her to continue her vocal studies in order to develop her upper range: as a result she became one of the most sought-after lyric sopranos of the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1967 Price sang with the English Opera Group, a sub-division of the Royal Opera House, appearing as Titania / A Midsummer Night’s Dream and in Mozart’s Der Schauspieldirektor. When she sang Konstanze / Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Glyndebourne the following year, Desmond Shawe-Taylor, writing in The Sunday Times described her voice as ‘brilliant, flexible and large-scale’. She returned to Glyndebourne to sing Fiordiligi / Così fan tutte in 1971 and Konstanze again in 1972. Meanwhile at Covent Garden she had sung Pamina / Die Zauberflöte in 1968 and Marzelline / Fidelio under Klemperer in 1969 (she was later to record Fiordiligi with him) and then returned to Welsh National Opera to sing Nannetta / Falstaff. During the next two seasons with WNO she also sang Amelia / Simon Boccanegra, Mimì / La Bohème and Pamina.

By now Price was singing internationally: she first appeared with the San Francisco Opera as Pamina and Nannetta in 1969 and 1970 and made a highly-praised debut at the Cologne Opera as Donna Anna / Don Giovanni in 1971. She first sang with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, as Amelia (Boccanegra), as well as with the Chicago Lyric Opera, in 1972 and with the Paris Opera in 1973, as the Countess / Le nozze di Figaro. This was also the year in which she sang Donna Anna / Don Giovanni at Covent Garden and in Munich to huge acclaim, appeared for the first time with the Vienna State Opera, and sang Agathe / Der Freischütz for Italian radio with Wolfgang Sawallisch as conductor: she was to work frequently with him.

At the Salzburg Festival Price made her debut in 1975 as Konstanze, returning to give song recitals (her favourite performance medium) as well as to appear in opera. She was a member of the Paris Opera company which visited New York in 1976, when her repertoire included Desdemona / Otello as well as the Figaro Countess. The late 1970s were spent predominantly in Germany, where she settled, living in Munich.

Having made her debut at La Scala, Milan, as Fiordiligi, Price sang a single incandescent performance there of Elisabetta de Valois / Don Carlos in 1978 with Abbado conducting: an occasion which was televised. She recorded, but did not sing on stage, Isolde / Tristan und Isolde, with Carlos Kleiber conducting; sang Desdemona under him at Covent Garden in 1980; and the following year sang the title role in Aida at San Francisco opposite Luciano Pavarotti.

It was not until 1985 that Price made her belated first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera, New York. She sang Desdemona, following this with Elisabetta de Valois in 1988 and the Figaro Countess in 1994. Other later roles included the title parts in Adriana Lecouvreur, Ariadne auf Naxos, Norma, and Amelia / Un ballo in maschera.

Price, who was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1993, retired in 1999, returning to Wales and devoting herself to the breeding and showing of dogs. Her death was caused by heart failure.

She possessed the most beautiful, rich voice which she could use with great agility and which suited Mozart extremely well. Her frequent high spirits could often be detected in her onstage demeanour.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).