For those of us lucky enough to have seen Leontyne Price on the operatic stage before her 1985 retirement, the answer to the question "Does the voice remain?" is a resounding "Yes." At her Saturday night recital at the George Mason University Center for the Arts, not only did she give her signature performances of Verdi and Puccini arias, but she also delved into the subtle art song repertoire that the recital stage allows.
In "Pace, pace mio Dio," from Verdi's "La Forza del Destino," Price's remarkable range from exquisite high notes to rich chest tones supported her heart-wrenching interpretation of this prayer for solace. Likewise, in "Tu? tu? tu?" from Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" (sung as an encore for a wildly enthusiastic, standing audience), the soprano made Butterfly's suffering almost palpable through chilling high notes and sobbing phrases.
Showing a delightful sense of fun, Price exploited the onomatopoeic effects of music by American composer Lee Hoiby. In Hoiby's setting of e.e. cummings's poem "Always It's Spring," she vocally imitated a rising balloon, against the always supportive accompaniment of skilled pianist David Garvey. Turning to lieder by Richard Strauss, she pranced her way through "Herr Lenz" with a light, teasing tone. In "Le Printemps," by Reynaldo Hahn, she sang blithely of spring, held the final note so long you expected her to faint, and then bowed, flashing her tremendous smile as if to say, "There!"