Crossword puzzles are wont to define a diva as an opera singer, butthis doesn't begin to tell the whole story. A diva is an opera personality, larger than life, an actress and a storyteller, a musician and a grande dame. Soprano Leontyne Price is a diva. When she sweeps onto a stage, be it opera stage or concert hall, she takes over just by being there.

At the Kennedy Center Concert Hall yesterday, she lavished this extraordinary personality on a program that included both recital and opera war horses and some less familiar sets of songs.

Although it was the war horses that drew the cheers--standing ovations for the two Puccini arias, "Un bel di" and "Vissi d'arte," delighted approval for spirituals and for Handel's "Dank sei dir Herr"--it was the other songs that brought some of the afternoon's finest singing.

In songs by Marx with marvelously Gothic texts, Price used the words like battering rams, her diction carrying the inner tensions and the music to dramatic heights. The set of three character pieces by Hoiby and a couple by Rorem found her using a splendid repertoire of vocal and rhythmic devises to project the songs. In these songs, also, her voice was freer than at other times during the prgram.

Pianist David Garvey, an artist in his own right, was collaborator, support, orchestra and protagonist, as needed.