Opera Rara's First Diva
A soprano's home phone jangles on a Wednesday afternoon. The caller
is a frantic artistic director with a most unusual plea. His prima donna
has cancelled on opening night. It's a difficult bel canto role, one our
soprano has never studied or sung - no one, in fact, has sung it in
well-nigh a century. The performance is in a few hours. 'You've just got
to come down and sing the part!' he cries.
Of course, most sopranos would refuse and hang up; they might even laugh
at or be insulted by such a seemingly ridiculous request. Janet Price
didn't hesitate. 'I'm on my way,' she declared, and like a divatic
superheroine, she flew out the door, ready to save the day. After a
cursory look at some of the music, she stood to one side of the stage,
sight-reading from the totally unfamiliar score while an actress mimed the
role on stage.
That 1974 revival of Donizetti's Torquato Tasso was
broadcast by the BBC, and recordings were issued by MRF and Unique Opera
Records. Surprisingly, the liner notes gave no indication of the
remarkable circumstances. Listening today to that recording, one would
have no inkling that any such rabbit-out-of-a-hat substitution had
occurred. Price sounds born to sing the role.
"The most remarkable operatic feat I have ever witnessed,"
declared Felix Aprahamian.
"Far from allowances having to be made, it would be impossible to
imagine the part more fluently, beautifully, or stylishly sung. Miss Price
has previously shown her mettle in such music: now she has also
demonstrated a degree of practical musicianship unlikely to be forgotten."
Stelios Galatopoulos recalled that he only fully accepted that Price was
a last-minute substitution when the woman in the seat next to him leaned
over and whispered that Price obviously hadn't been to the hairdresser
before the performance.
Read the full interview with Janet Price, by Daniel
Foley and Nicholas Limansky at: