Leontyne Price sounded in glorious forum yesterday afternoon as she sang for President and Mrs. Carter in the East Room of the White House.
Her voice was as much her obedient servant in bringing the essence of Handel arias - "Sommi Dei" from "Radamisto," and Cleopatra's heartbreaking "Piangero" from "Julius Caesar" - as in four great songs by Richard Strauss.
With David Garvey as her consummate colleague at the piano, Price sang "Morgen" by Strauss with the hushed perfection that makes it one of the world's ineffable songs. It could not be sung more exquisitely.
After Tosca's "Vissi d'arte," with which she brought down the house, Price, as she has throughout her career, turned to American composers. Five of them, of whom three - Ned Rorem, Dominick Argento and Samuel Barber - have won Pulitzer prizes, were given in ideal fashion. Argento's "Winter," setting lines from Shakespeare's "Love's Labours Lost," is a tour de force for piano which Garvey turned out brilliantly, to match the phenomenal singing. Louie White's "Psalm 150" and Howard Swanson's "Night Song" were included in the group.
In three spirituals that followed, Price continued to shower the East Room with a coruscation of high notes that had dazzled her audience for an hour. At the end of "This Li'l Light of Mine," as she came to the last phrase, "Let it shine," the sound on the final high B flat was like a star shooting across the sky. When she finished "Ride on King Jesus," in triumph, no one, including the president, was willing to let her go until she had sung, as no one else can, "Summertime," from "Porgy and Bess," which she first sang here, unforgettably, in 1952.
There was something special in the East Room yesterday afternoon.It was Leontyne Price.