Sunday, October 9, 2011

Leontyne Price: Verdi's Rigoletto– 'Caro nome'

Leontyne Price sings the Italian aria, “Caro nome” (“Sweet name”) from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto (1851). It is performed in the second scene of Act 1 by Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter. After the Duke, disguised as a  poor student named Gualtier Malde, has seduced her, Gilda sings of her new-found love.


Rigoletto, an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi, is based on the play Le roi s’amuse, a tragedy in five acts that Victor Hugo published in 1832. The Italian libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave, who had a long and successful collaboration with Verdi. The opera was first performed at La Fenice in Venice, Italy, on March 11, 1851. It is set in Manuta, Italy, in the 16th century. The synopsis can be found here.

Although Price does sings commendably and warmly in this role, it was another Verdi production to which she became forever known, Verdi’s Aida. Prices’s arrival as a diva on the operatic stage was an unlikely one, given her humble beginnings, but it shows that talent can carry you far. And to great heights.

Leontyne Price was born Violet Leontyne Price to James and Kate Price in Laurel, Mississippi, on February 10, 1927. He worked in a sawmill and she as a midwife. Leontyne's musical talents were encouraged and she attended The Julliard School in New York City. Afterward she appeared in musical revivals including Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. An operatic career soon followed, where Price sang Verdi's Aida for the first time in 1957. "She identified strongly with the character, and her success led her to Vienna to sing for conductor Herbert von Karajan and, in 1960, to the stage of La Scala, " the website Afrocentric Voices writes, adding:
In January, 1961, she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera as Leonora in Verdi's Il Trovatore. Her performance was a success not only to the audience who witnessed it, but to the New York critics as well. She was signed for additional roles there and at other houses around the world. By the mid 1960's, her reputation had grown to the extent that she was offered the lead in the Samuel Barber opera commissioned especially for the opening of the Met's new facilities at Lincoln Center. The opening performance of Antony and Cleopatra in 1966, though marred by the extremes taken in costuming and staging, solidified Price's place as one of the world's great divas.
Price, a lirico-spinto soprano with a range of  3-1/2 octaves, gave her farewell operatic performance, in her signature role as Aida, at "The Met" on January 3, 1985. It was nationally televised, and a clip of "O patria mia"can be viewed here. It is emotional on many fronts. For a critical review of that final performance, including the audience's prolonged 25-minute celebration of her career's end, you can read Donal Henahan's assessment in the venerable New York Times here.

Below are the lyrics to the aria, “Caro nome,” as supplied by

In Italian

Caro nome che il mio cor
festi primo palpitar,
le delizie dell'amor
mi dêi sempre rammentar!
Col pensiero il mio desir
a te ognora volerà,
e pur l' ultimo sospir,
caro nome, tuo sarà.

English Translation
Sweet name, you who made my heart
throb for the first time,
you must always remind me
the pleasures of love!
My desire will fly to you
on the wings of thought
and my last breath
will be yours, my beloved.

Translation by Guia K. Monti

Giuseppe Verdi [1813-1901]: “Our mistake, you see, was to write interminable large operas, which had to fill an entire evening. And now along comes someone with a one or two-act opera without all that pompous nonsense - that was a happy reform.”
Photograph by Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon), taken in Paris, France in the 1860s; currently at the Harvard Art Museum
Source: Harvard Art Museum

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