The gentle country air of Virginia was vibrating with powerful and sensuous sounds last night as the National Symphony initiated its summer series of concerts at Wolf Trap. The source was Leontyne Price, whose commanding voice has established her as a high priestess of the vocal arts today.
For her appearance Price selected some of the Most intense arias in the repertoire. There was Electra's raging cry for death from the closing moments of "Idomeneo"; Serena's moving lament for her murdered husband from "Porgy and Bess"; Leonora's anguished sighs of love to her imprisoned lover from the final act of "I Trovatore" and, finally, the vengeful declarations of Turandot. It was with the "Nin Questa Reggia" of Turandot that Price let loose not only the amazing power of her voice but also its dramatic intensity.
She never failed to use her extraordinarily rich voice with great intelligence, though the earlier selections lacked the emotional commitment which she gave to Turandot. But the totality of that commitment set the entire evening on fire.
Guest conductor James Conlon provided Price with the most sympathetic of accompaniments. He also demonstrated a sensitive ear and forceful command of the orchestra in Strauss' "Don Juan" and Debussy's "la Mer." In both works the expressiveness of his concept was not always returned with equal intensity by the orchestra, whose playing generally lacked an edge of excitement. The brass, however, deserves commendation for its notably warm sound which may have been a result of a pre-concert serenade by some members for the audience on the lawn.