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LEONTYNE PRICE—DIVA EXTRAORDINAIRE; THE MET—OPERA HOUSE DITTO

THE OPERA HOUSE is an award-winning documentary by Susan Froemke about the Metropolitan Opera’s Lincoln Center home and its mid-1960s construction. One of its stars is diva extraordinaire Leontyne Price, now 90 and as diva-ish as ever.

This documentary is being shown in selected theaters around the U.S. and Canada on Saturday, January 13, 2018, followed by encores on Wednesday, January 17, 2018. Here in California, our Met in HD operas are typically at 9:55 a.m. Pacific, occasionally 8:55 a.m. for Wagner epics and the like. However, The Opera House is at 12:55 p.m. local time. Theater locations and tickets can be had at Fathom Events.

Mary Violet Leontyne Price, Mississippi-born in 1927, American soprano, one of the first African Americans to become a leading artist at the Metropolitan Opera. Image by Roger Phenix/Metropolitan Opera from The New York Times, December 22, 2017.

During her career, Leontyne Price earned a Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1964; Kennedy Center Honors, 1980; National Medal of Arts, 1985; 19 Grammys as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award, 1989; and Opera Honors from the National Endowment for the Arts, 2008.

Though Price retired from singing 20 years ago, she returns as a star in The Opera House. Details are given in “Leontyne Price, Legendary Diva, Is a Movie Star at 90,” by Anthony Tommasini, in The New York Times, December 22, 2017. Here are several selected tidbits from this article.

The new Metropolitan Opera House under construction, May 1964. Image from Metropolitan Opera Archives.

In 1966, the Metropolitan Opera House replaced its original 1883 home with a new one as part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Planning and construction were filled with drama of operatic proportions. There were controversial aspects of urban renewal, power brokers such as John D. Rockefeller III and Robert Moses, complexities of theater design, the aspirations of Met general manager Rudolf Bing, and even the serendipitous creation of chandeliers.

Bing was especially ambitious in introducing four new productions during the theater’s first nine days. One of these was the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra, with Justino Diaz and Leontyne Price in the leading roles.

Soprano Leontyne Price and tenor Robert Merrill celebrating placement of the new Met’s highest steel beam, 1964. Image by Bob Serating/Lincoln Center Archives.

[I’ve just seen The Opera House, and have corrected a scenery snafu.] Ending one scene of the opera, Price dramatically moves off when the sides of a giant pyramid rise to enclose her, the pyramid then moving offstage on a turntable for the scene change. It’s even better, I say, than Elizabeth Taylor’s being unrolled from a rug in the 1963 flick Cleopatra.

However, during the last dress rehearsal for the Lincoln Center premiere of Antony and Cleopatra, the turntable refused to cooperate and Price was temporarily trapped inside.

On opening night in 1966, Rudolf Bing came backstage to wish her well. Price recalls she told him, “I’m about to scream—not sing—to scream with happiness.”

More recently, Price tells Tommasini during her NYT interview that she continues to sing every day: “It’s practically the only thing in me that still works—at least without Bengay, athletic creams, or Emu oil.”

About The Opera House documentary, Tommasini asks the diva, “But does Ms. Price like the results?”

“Are you kidding?,” she responds, “I’m having it put in my casket.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

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