An Interview with Janet Price, 'Opera Rara's First Diva'

'As important as singing was to me, I'm so glad that it was never the only single thing in my life.'

5 April 2009

Phil Grabsky

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 pirate 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. '[T]he 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.

A short time later on the other side of the world, Cleveland Press music critic Tom Villella expressed bafflement that the Metropolitan Opera hadn't yet tapped Price's talent. Calling her a soprano of 'exceptional dramatic thrust and power,' Villela wrote that 'she sings, acts, declaims, and otherwise tears off the roof with her astonishing versatility.' Her recordings from this period – almost all of them pirate LPs of BBC broadcasts – reveal a singer of great artistry, technical prowess, and expressive powers. Large enough to effortlessly float above the noisy brass-heavy orchestration and massive choral forces of a Mercadante opera, her instrument is unique: combine the range of a lyric soprano with the timbre of a high mezzo and a vibrato rather reminiscent of that of Pilar Lorengar; add a bel canto arsenal that includes rapid-fire fioriture, scales of astonishing accuracy, and a flawless trill, and the resulting confection is a decadent one indeed.

Yet she never achieved the heights of fame of Beverly Sills or Joan Sutherland. Known today primarily to record collectors for her association with the formative years of Opera Rara, she sang some of the most difficult bel canto roles, in some cases in their first revivals in over a century. We knew when we set out to interview Miss Price that this was a gifted singer, and an intrepid one. We were less prepared for Janet Price the artist and woman. She impressed us with the breadth of her experience, but most of all we were wowed by her winning personality. Engaging, vivacious, talkative, possessed of a sunny disposition, she loves to talk about singing – all of which made her a great pleasure to interview. Above all, Janet Price seems happy. The challenges and disappointments she faced in her 30-year career are accepted with grace and equanimity, and the triumphs –joys may be a better word – are looked back upon with fondness and gratitude. But for all she loves to reminisce about her career, she seems to us a woman who truly relishes living in the moment.

Price was born in the village of Abersychan in Wales. She didn't always envision a career as a soprano. 'When I started preparing for university my intention was to be a doctor.' From an early age she had always thought 'How wonderful it would be to look out of a window, see somebody walk down the road, and think, ‘he does that partly because of me.''

But by the time of her Form 6 studies, music had triumphed over medicine. Both parents were regionally known amateur singers, and she herself began performing at the age of 4, receiving instruction in both voice and piano (fans may be surprised to learn that when her family gathered around the piano to sing, Price's role was as the accompanist). She regularly won first prize in local competitions. Impressed by her talent, her mother's butcher wrote a letter to a television program called 'All Your Own' recommending that they showcase her. Soon she was appearing on the program as both a singer and a pianist. Her versatility as well as virtuosity made her a favorite. She recalls that on one episode the pianist was late to the first rehearsal. 'They wanted to know what I was singing, and I said, ‘Well, I can show you.' I sang accompanying myself and they begged my mother there and then to take me out of school, and let me go into a television program called ‘Whirligig'.' Had she taken them up on the offer, her career would have been a very different one, 'a sort of Julie-Andrews-type thing.'

Education had a high priority in Wales in the difficult time after the start of World War II, and her mother refused the bait despite two hours of pleading from the producers of the show. When she did go to university, it was to study composition. Though she sang solos in choral society concerts, her main practical study was in piano. She developed a high level of proficiency, and played concertos with the university orchestra as well as participating in chamber ensembles.

In 1962, a history professor's intervention helped to transform Price from a talented pianist into a virtuoso coloratura. The professor penned a letter to composer Michael Head about Price saying, 'I have a friend who sings and plays the piano, and some of us think that her personality is being lost by sitting at a piano. We feel that she should be a singer, what can you recommend?'

'Well, what on earth could the poor chap say?' laughs Price. Head wrote back recommending that she sing for Olive Groves at the Royal Academy of Music: if she felt Price should sing, he would trust that judgment. When Price auditioned, Groves felt instantly that she was a born singer. After having spent five hours every day at the piano, Price closed the lid and did not practice it again. After post-graduate study with Groves, in 1964 she won the Young Welsh Singers' Award, an honor which helped to launch her singing career.

Groves is partly responsible for the solid singing technique that allowed Price to re-create some of the most taxing roles of the bel canto repertoire. Price also feels she owes a debt of gratitude to Joan Sutherland. 'When I started singing, her Art of the Prima Donna album came out around the same time, and I listened to it and I thought, ‘this is terrific from a technical point of view.' I could shut my eyes and almost imagine how she was throwing the voice around.'

After one Opera Rara performance, Price confided in Richard Bonynge how much she owed to Sutherland. Bonygne pooh-poohed her. 'Rubbish,' he retorted, 'People are either born to sing this kind of music or they're not, you're one of those born to sing it.' Price was flattered, but with characteristic pluckiness replied, 'I don't care what you say, I owe something to your wife.' Price to this day considers Sutherland one of her ‘teachers in absentia,' in deportment as well as in matters vocal. 'I always respected her so much because she had one foot on the earth. There was no diva behavior there, which I've never been able to stomach at all. I like people to be thoughtful, and she is very normal, despite the greatness of her career.'

The sophistication Price brought to bel canto roles in part can be traced to her training and expertise as an interpreter of art song. Fans of her bel canto recordings may be surprised to learn that during the 1960's she studied and performed in France with such legendary figures as Nadia Boulanger and Aaron Copland. She and her husband Adrian Beaumont had daily lessons with Boulanger, which could last up to five hours. 'It must have been like in the days of Liszt I should think, when time was completely lost. But she was both a revolution and a revelation in my life. I was drawn to French music but I really didn't know a lot about it until I went to her.' Price went on to do concerts with Boulanger, recording the Faurè Requiem and Lili Boulanger's Pie Jesu.

Price herself feels one of her unique contributions to the music she performed was to bring greater musicianship to the works she interpreted than a singer who hadn't been trained as a musician might. 'I feel very strongly that all the roulades, all that kind of thing, has to have some emotional basis,' she says. Display for the sake of showing off is never the way to go, in Price's opinion. 'How you sing your portamento depends on what emotion your trying to convey at that moment, so I did always try, and felt very strongly about that. I hope that people can see that in my recordings.'

Critical praise for her song recitals evidences her mastery of the genre. The March 1, 1966 Times recounted that 'While capable of feats of strength and forcible projection, Miss Price's voice was also pliable enough to achieve gentle and tender things, too... Faurè suited her best of all: his ‘En Prière' (offered as an encore) was beautifully fluid in line and delicate in sentiment.' Another Times review (November 16, 1967) called one recital 'pure pleasure,' praising her ability to 'catch both the period flavor and the specific emotional demands of a song, and to incorporate momentary nuances while retaining the dramatic shape of a song; and she lives the music she sings.'

Phil GrabskyThere were, as she puts it, three strands to her career: French music, modern music - some of it written specifically for her - and bel canto. The three were separate, but mutually supportive. 'The nuance that you have to have in art song I found a tremendous help in opera, because you don't want to be just belting opera out at the same level all the time. The strength in the sound, which I found in the bel canto things, I tried to take back to art song and hopefully bring something extra to that.' For us it explains the impeccable shaping of the vocal lines and the subtleties of dynamic shading heard in the early pirated recordings of Opera Rara performances with which Price is associated.

Price's versatility was not so very unusual in the sixties and seventies. In those days, 'you didn't become a specialist as you more or less are now – you had to do everything, and I sang everything. From Monteverdi to Messaien and Tippett....And for me that was interesting because I think I would have hated to have had about a half dozen roles, attached to the same company, singing the same things year in and year out.' Price loved the challenge of a grueling schedule with different performances happening almost simultaneously. During one particularly taxing week in the 1970s her schedule included everything from Ilia in Idomeneo to a commercial recording of art song for Argo and a Schoenberg string quartet. 'I had six things that week, all on consecutive nights. That was a bit unusual – but you could get weeks like that, when it was all chopping and changing, and I spent my whole life switching like that, which I loved.'

We ask Price about one of the more remarkable weapons in her vocal arsenal - her stunning trill, which anyone who has listened to the Opera Rara recording of Ugo Conte di Parigi (ORC 1) will well remember. She believes singers are either born with this ability or without it. 'A trill is something you can't teach anyone. You can only guide them by giving them some kind of picture in the mind. I could always do it, I can only say that.' In fact, she was always able to handle the most difficult coloratura with remarkable ease. 'I had to work much more on the slower moving passages,' she says, 'because I'm very energetic, excitable kind of person, and still even at my age I always say I have too much energy for my own good!'

Price's recordings do not showcase the same extreme acuti that mark Sutherland's early recordings: there are few E-flats and only an occasional D or D-flat. Yet when she was a student, she could tackle the Queen of the Night's arias with ease. This changed after she got married and began taking a contraceptive pill. 'After taking that contraceptive, I never had an F again, and in fact, I never had solid notes above D after that. Certainly, I could touch on an E-flat in runs. I did Carmina Burana so many times, and you've got to have a safe D there, but I never could sing above that in the way that Sutherland could.' She later read in a medical journal that the pill - which in those days was far more potent - was known to have this effect on the upper ranges of sopranos. She admits that if she could go back, she would never have taken it. Yet her attitude is a philosophical one. 'Life comes and you get married, and you know you want to have your career, so you do what you feel you need to do. Being a woman has its problems!' But at the end of the day, she doesn't consider these highest notes necessary. 'Voices have to end somewhere. If people have the really high notes, fine, bully for them as it were, but I don't think it's 100% essential to have all the high notes to sing that music.'

In April, 1971 Price's life and career were forever changed when a 25-year-old unknown named Patric Schmid came backstage after Price's performance of Haydn's La Fedelta Premiata. Explaining that he had founded a company called Opera Rara – dedicated to reviving rare bel canto works – he cheekily asked if she would care to be 'Opera Rara's First Diva' (thereafter he would often address her by this title, or more slyly, as 'La Prezza'). Price needed no convincing. Having been fascinated with the recordings of Sutherland, and having sung in Rossini's Le Comte Ory, she knew that the bel canto repertoire was well-suited to her voice. 'It's wonderful, wonderful singer's music,' she emphasizes. 'I want to be remembered for singing it. I feel very passionately about that.' The ensuing association with Opera Rara is one she is proud of, and she remembers it as the happiest and most fulfilling time in her career.

Price credits Schmid for creating a unique atmosphere at Opera Rara that brought out the best in everyone. She recalls that he had 'a very special gift, a unique gift – he could hear a singer and know instantly what that particular voice was capable of doing – and perhaps even more than that, what the person was capable of doing.' He handpicked his singers and placed complete confidence in them. 'We all loved and trusted the music, and together - and I stress the word ‘together'- as a team, we never doubted that we could actually do it reasonable justice.' That assurance sprang from the sheer pleasure that came from bringing the disparate parts of these old scores together into a convincing whole. 'And let's make no mistake about it,' she emphasizes, 'that came from Patric.' People like Patric Schmid are rare indeed, says Price. 'They pop up now and then, like Pavarotti voices, how often do we hear them? Once in a century if we're lucky.'

Rehearsal times at Opera Rara's former headquarters on Haverstock Street sound less like work than warm family gatherings. She recounts with obvious fondness 'the coffee breaks, the marvelous lunches Patric used to rustle up in his kitchen.' When music would arrive on microfilm from Italy, musicologist Robert Roberts – sequestered in the attic – had the Herculean task of writing out the orchestral score, the orchestral parts, and the vocal score. Though all worked tremendously hard, it was great fun. 'We were carried along on what I can only describe as an enormous tidal wave of enthusiasm. And this generated excitement and joy and sincerity in the performances.'

At the time there was tremendous interest in Opera Rara, as they were navigating a path that had been largely unexplored since the 19th century. The BBC broadcast their performances. Pirate record labels immediately showed an interest. The singers, including Price, were well aware that scarcely had they stepped off the stage when tapes of the live broadcasts were on their way to the United States to be made into records, then to be distributed globally. Nobody minded. Those recordings helped not only Opera Rara, but all the singers' careers. In fact, they led to Price's stage debut in the United States.

Phil GrabskySome even today consider Opera Rara's golden age to be those glory days of the 1970's, when Price and her cohorts, baritone Christian duPlessis, tenor Maurice Arthur, mezzo Della Jones, and soprano Yvonne Kenny – to name a few - were singing with the company. We ask if she still sees any of them. Du Plessis, she tells us, gave up singing completely to become an antiques dealer, and she has lost touch with him long since. She has not seen Maurice Arthur for many years, but did meet up with Yvonne Kenny at Patric Schmid's 60th birthday party. Margreta Elkins – for whom she substituted in Torquato Tasso - went back to Australia. 'A lot of us did meet up at Patric's 60th party, and some of us met up at his memorial, but not everybody.'

We wondered whether Schmid wrote the ornamentation we hear in those recordings. Decoration of the vocal lines was, Price explains, a collaborative effort. Sometimes Schmid would write it, but he was equally open to what Price made up herself. Some of his demands pushed her to the edges of her capabilities. One example was the extravagant fioritura he added to an aria in Maria Padilla by Donizetti. 'Patric knew I loved to move my voice around, but he had me going up and down the octaves like crazy! He pushed me to the absolute limit, and I said to him, ‘Patric, is this really going to work? Do you think I can do this?' And he just looked at me and said very quietly: ‘Darling, you can do it.' Well, there wasn't any answer to that. You always knew if Patric said, ‘you can do it' even if you felt you couldn't, you had to go and find a way ‘round it.' Price herself was certainly no slouch when it came to composing her own cadenzas. Like trilling, she believes cadenza-writing can't really be taught, but is an instinctive capability. She wrote her own for Mozart's Esultate Jubilate, and as a pianist even did the same with concertos.

Incredibly, when she substituted at the last minute for Opera Rara's Torquato Tasso, she improvised her cadenzas on the spot. While Price recalls that Schmid and conductor Kenneth Montgomery spent that day 'totally ashen-faced,' she herself is surprisingly blasè about this incredible feat. 'None of us knew what was going to happen. On about five occasions in the whole of my life - not necessarily always with opera –it was like I wasn't doing that, something took me over, and I was almost outside of it. It's an uncanny feeling, and I've had it a few times, not very often, but that was one of them.'

Price considers the apex of her career to be her performances for Opera Rara of the role of Camilla in Mercadante's Orazi e Curiazi. A hugely taxing part both in terms of technical demands and vocal stamina, at first she feared she would not be equal to its challenges. 'I well remember the day that that score plopped through the letter-box,' she recounts. 'Because I picked it up, opened it, looked at it, and I said to my husband Adrian, ‘I don't think I can do this. This is far more difficult than anything Patric has ever asked me to do before.'

But her husband encouraged her to begin working on it before passing judgment. And Schmid, of course, had complete faith in her ability to sing it. As she began to chip away at its difficulties, ways around them began to emerge. 'Mercadante is so very difficult, because you have all those ensembles which climb, climb, climb to the climax, and you do it once and say, ‘OH thank GOD', and then he starts ALL over again. It's tremendously sapping.' No less daunting was the exhaustingly high tessitura of the role – she recalls that a tally of the score revealed an almost inconceivable 38 high C's, a couple of high D's, and one D-flat.

When the time finally came, there were four performances of the opera in a space of six days: Tuesday was the final rehearsal in Bournemouth; the first performance in Bristol on Wednesday, Exeter on Friday, and London on Sunday. The final performance was broadcast live by the BBC, the source of the much prized MRF recording. Price recalls that Julian Budden, at the time head of opera at the BBC greeted her in the wings after that final performance and exclaimed, 'Janet, I've only one thing to say, I do not know how you're still standing!' If she has one regret, it's that the Exeter performance, which she considers to have been her best, was not recorded. 'In the end, I did my best singing for Patric in that opera – I think he thought so too. And possibly it was the best singing in my whole career.' Critics were enthusiastic as well. Stelios Galatopoulous, writing for Music and Musicians in July 1975, wrote, 'Janet Price as Camilla distinguished herself with her most accomplished singing, whether in aria or in recitative. Her declamation has become more powerful without losing any of its sensitivity...it is amazing that a singer of this calibre has not been used by either of the London Opera Houses.'

She takes special pride in a visit she received from Beverly Sills, who was considering tackling the same role for a proposed performance of Orazi in New York. Sills sought out Price to meet the woman who had actually sung this impossible role. They had tea together. 'I secretly smiled and thought, well, you've paid me a tremendous compliment, really.' In the end, though, Sills never sang Camilla; Schmid, who was friendly with Sills, later said the the role was simply unsuited to her voice – she couldn't sing it. Price explains, 'There's something about that role – Mercadante could have written it for me. You know, you can get two singers who have the same tessitura, they can have the same notes, but one thing's difficult for this one, easy for the other. It's just how it happens to lie for you, and Orazi for me was just perfect.'

How, then, did Price's association with Opera Rara come to an end just after the release of their first commercial recording? Price explains that after Ugo Conte di Parigi the next announced recording project was Maria Padilla; she'd already done that opera for Opera Rara in 1973, the live MRF recording of which had been widely circulating for some time. Opera Rara at that time could then afford to pay singers very little, if anything. The artists participated out of love of the music and for the publicity they got from the performances and pirate recordings. Price had recently entered into several lucrative contracts which would conflict with the recording sessions. She felt she had no choice but to refuse. The disagreement between her and Schmid's partner Don White (who at the time largely bankrolled the organization) over her refusal inevitably created distance between her and Schmid. But Schmid never forgot the crucial role she played in the early success of the organization, and proof of his gratitude came in 2002. Their long separation was finally healed when, on the thirtieth anniversary of her first concert performance with Opera Rara (as Palmide in Meyerbeer's Il Crociato in Egitto), a large bouquet of flowers arrived from Schmid with a card that read 'For Opera Rara's First Diva.' From there their friendship began anew, and came to an end only with Schmid's untimely death in November, 2005.

Could a venture like Opera Rara have successfully started in today's more mercenary artistic climate, we wonder? Price is doubtful. 'I sang with joy and with love in my heart. Young singers don't always do so now.' She finds that interest in becoming technically secure before attempting difficult roles is increasingly rare. Singers' role models are often, as she puts it, 'people without any technique whatsoever, but who happen to have been in the right place at the right time. They're earning money, but they're not really singing. They're not having what I would call a career.' Though she loves to teach and has dedicated students, like many veteran singers she finds herself bewildered by those students who feel that spending time perfecting their technique is wasted effort. She sees agents and opera house management as a large part of the problem. 'More and more people in positions of power - companies and so forth – know less and less and they are going for the superficial things. It's very, very different from when I started in the early ‘sixties.'

When working with students, she tries not to become too involved in the politics of singing. 'If they ask me what the life is like, sometimes I have to be very honest with them and tell them things. But at the same time I see my main job as enabling them to be better singers: getting the technique right, opening their eyes to repertoire, what they can sing, and so on. Because I think I might go a little mad if I got involved with all the hoo-ha; I've been through all that, done that, got the t-shirt. All you can do is to emphasize that unless they have a good technique, they're not really going to last in the way that you would like. But then they have different expectations, you see – they maybe don't want to do things in the way that I did them.'

All reservations aside, however, Price loves working with budding singers. The same wish to help people that fueled an interest in medicine thus finds an outlet in her teaching. Price has had a busy career as a vocal teacher, taking on private students as well as teaching posts at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. She has judged numerous vocal competitions, including the Grimsby International Singers' Competition, the Arts Council's Young Welsh Singers' Award, and the RTE (Dublin) Musician of the Future Competition.

Phil GrabskyWe ask Price whether there were any roles she would like to have sung, but never had the chance. Her answer is typical of her passion for the art of singing: 'I would like to be doing any of it.' She wonders if perhaps she was born a bit too early. Had Opera Rara already been established when she began singing with them, she might have recorded more commercially, but then, she says, 'Somebody has to do the pioneer bit.' She would have also liked to have sung more of the standard repertoire. 'My life always seems to be kind of unusual. In everything I did, I always did the less usual things rather than the normal things, which I suppose was good. I have no regrets, but I always wished that I had done a commercial recording of Francesca in Rachmaninoff's Francesca da Rimini, because it's such a fabulous opera.'

Price's American operatic debut came when she was offered the role of Irene in Wagner's Rienzi for Victor Alessandro in San Antonio in 1977. He had heard her on the pirated records, and sought her out for that performance. Tragically, by the time she went onstage, Alessandro had died; it was John Mauceri who eventually conducted that performance. When we ask her to tell us about Rienzi, we are leading up to other potentially less comfortable questions. Why didn't Price sing more in the United States? And why, as Galatopolous wondered, wasn't she singing at Covent Garden? At first, she speaks in generalities. She was badly managed by an agent in the U.K., she tells us. But in the end, she fully opens up, and relates how the pill once again came back to haunt her.

In the summer of 1975 Price developed problems with the lining of her nose. Without warning, her nasal passages would close up to a quarter their normal diameter. At first she blamed sinusitis, but the problem became chronic. Normally a performer who rarely if ever cancelled, Price began having to withdraw from crucial performances. The first of those cancellations was the title role of Rosmonda d'Inghilterra for Opera Rara, which led to the last-minute debut of Yvonne Kenny - a performance that catapulted that soprano to international fame. 'People didn't realize what the problem was, because I would look healthy. I could go in to do a concert, and in rehearsals I would be fine, but if I went into a hot concert hall immediately, the membranes would swell up. It was like having clothes pegs on the end of my nose and I couldn't sing properly.'

An ear, nose, and throat specialist in London felt certain that this was another reaction to the pill. Ten months and two operations later, Price returned to singing — performing in a Janacek mass — and never had a problem after. During that period, however, she cancelled some of her most critical engagements. Her run as Kostanze at the Welsh National Opera had to be cut short after only two or three performances. WNO never booked her to sing another role. For Covent Garden, there had been talk of an Echo in Ariadne auf Naxos, for which she had sung the role of Naiad at Glynebourne, but after the illness it never materialized. 'It was diabolical, when you think that I'm Welsh, and when you think of all the good singing I did after that, all the good work I did, but they never wanted to know...it was a horrendous time – it just was a bad year, which gave me bad press, and people never forgot it.'

And yet Price feels she did some of her best singing after that- she met Bernard Haitink with whom she recorded Beethoven's Ninth Symphony; she sang the title role of Mercadante's Virginia and portrayed Queen Elizabeth in a staged revival of Donizetti's Il Castello di Kenilworth for Opera Rara; with the same company she made a commercial recording Donizetti's Ugo, Conte di Parigi; she sang Liu in a prestigious concert performance of Turandot under Henry Lewis in Amsterdam, and the role of Hecuba in Tippett's King Priam (a performance which was later televised and has recently been re-released on DVD). But some doors that had quietly shut never re-opened, even though she had no further vocal problems and her cords were - in the words of her physician - ‘lily-white.' 'It was quite a simple thing, really, to cure, but it was catastrophic, and catastrophic at a vital time.' Price admits that the snubs of some important companies after her illness 'took a lot of getting over, inwardly. But I think, in many ways, it helped to make me a better teacher.' And in spite of everything, she is gratified that collectors still prize her recordings and remember her - letters still come from all over the world from fans of her recordings.

Price gave her last public performance at the age of 57. 'A Brahms Requiem in Bristol with my husband Adrian Beaumont conducting. I never knew at that moment that that would be the last one, though I suspected it might be. Funnily enough, though I can't say I didn't miss going on stage – I mean, it's magic–time! - I adjusted to it quite well. What I didn't miss of course was all the hoo-ha, the getting on and off of planes, having to be at places at a certain time. The singing became almost the easiest part. It was certainly the most enjoyable part.'

As avid record-collectors, we can't resist asking Price if she listens to vocal recordings. 'Now this might surprise you,' she confides, 'but nowadays I don't listen to that much music, and if I do, it's usually orchestral, simply because I get rather worn out thinking about singing every note.'

She seems content to have avoided ever getting email or internet. 'We're dinosaurs here,' she laughs. 'We so like the quiet life but we keep thinking we will get the internet and something always holds us back.' Perhaps Price and her husband are simply too busy with their other hobbies to bother with the web or with opera recordings. One of their favorite activities is is mountain climbing. 'Three-thousand-footers,' Price tells us with pride. 'I couldn't do that very often when I was singing - it could only be done in my holiday times. But we will still climb a three thousand foot mountain, and we will still do a fourteen or fifteen mile walk. Not as fast as we used to, alas, because age is creeping up on us, but when you get on top of a mountain life is in perspective. Nothing else matters up there. As important as singing was to me, I'm so glad that it was never the only single thing in my life.'

By Daniel Foley and Nicholas Limansky

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Phil GrabskyDiscography

Complete Operas

Role of Bianca in Donizetti's Ugo, Conte di Parigi with Alun Francis and the New Philharmonia Orchestra – Opera Rara OR1. Reissued on CD: ORC1.

Role of Camilla in Mercadante's Orazi e Curiazi with Kenneth Montgomery and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta – MRF Records: MRF 120-S.

Role of Catherine in Meyerbeer's L'Etoile du Nord with Roderick Bryden and the New Symphony Orchestra – MRF Records: MRF 119-S.

Role of Elvire in Auber's Le Muette de Portici with Myer Fredman and the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra – MRF Records: MRF 123-S.

Role of Eleonora d'Este in Donizetti's Torquato Tasso with Kenneth Montgomery and the Opera Rara Orchestra – MRF Records: MRF 135-S.

Title role in Mercadante's Virginia with James Judd and the Ulster Orchestra – MRF Records: MRF 137-S.

Role of Elisabetta in Donizetti's Il Castello di Kenilworth with Alun Francis and the Opera Rara Orchestra – MRF Records: MRF 143-S.

Role of Palmide in Meyerbeer's Il Crociato in Egitto with Roderick Bryden and the Opera Rara Orchestra – BJR Recordings: BJRS 128.

Title role in Donizetti's Maria Padilla with Kenneth Montgomery and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta – BJR Recordings: BJRS 135. Reissued on CD – Opera d'Oro OPD1416.

Role of Edwige in Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe with Ian MacPherson and the New Symphony Orchestra – BJF Recordings: BJRS 140.

Role of Sister Infirmaress in Puccini's Suor Angelica with Richard Bonynge and the National Philharmonic Orchestra – Decca Set 627. Reissued on CD – Decca 458218.

Title role in Viardot's Cendrillon with Anthony Legge, piano – Unique Opera Records: UORC 136.

 

Phil GrabskyVideo

Role of Hecuba in Sir Michael Tippett's King Priam with Sir Roger Norrington and Kent Opera, directed by Nicholas Hytner – R.M. Arts 0700073. Reissued on DVD Arthaus Musik 102087.

 

Operatic Anthologies/Concerts

Opera Rara Silver Jubilee Gala: Kings and Queens of England – Unique Opera Records: UORC 356.

Opera Rara Potpourri No. 4 – Unique Opera Records: UORC 265.

Janet Price Soprano (excerpts from early Opera Rara concerts at Hintlesham Hall and complete recordings, various conductors/accompanists) – Unique Opera Records: UORC 272.

 

Songs/other vocal with piano

Composers of Wales (Songs of Morfydd Owen, Mansel Thomas and David Wynne) – Argo ZRG 769.

Rossini: La Riconoscenza (Cantata), Anthony Legge, piano – Unique Opera Records: UORC 137.

 

Phil GrabskyWorks with Orchestra

Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with Bernard Haitink and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Chorus and Orchestra – Philips 6769 067. Reissued on CD: 426 744-2.

Michael Brozen's In Memoriam (for Soprano and Orchestra) with James Dixon and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Composers' Recordings Incorporated – CRI SD 258.

Grace Williams' Fairest of Stars (for Soprano and Orchestra) with Sir Charles Groves and the London Symphony Orchestra – EMI ASD 3006. Reissued on CD: SRCD 327.

William Matthias' This Worlde's Joie with Sir David Willcocks, the Bach Choir and the New Philharmonia Orchestra – EMI ASD 3301. Reissued on CD: SRCD 324.

Mozart's Coronation Mass with Meredith Davies, Leeds Philharmonic Choir and the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra – BBC Radio Classics (15656 91552).

Fauré's Requiem and Lili Boulanger's Pie Jesu with Nadia Boulanger and the BBC Symphony Orchestra – CD BBCL 4026-2.

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Photos: Janet Price in 2008; Janet Price as Elizabeth I in Opera Rara's production of Donizetti's Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth at Camden Festival, 1977; Janet Price as Catherine in Opera Rara's production of Meyerbeer's L'Etoile du nord at Camden Festival in 1975; Janet Price as Ilia in Welsh National Opera's production of Mozart's Idomeneo in 1973.

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Review: Opera Rara announces initial plans for 2009
Review: Mercadante: Virginia; Wekerlin: La Laitière de Trianon (Opera Rara)
Review: Donizetti: Imelda de' Lambertazzi
Review: Donizetti: Dom Sébastien, roi de Portugal (LSO Live)

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