Leontyne Price – American Diva and Aquarian of Representation
Honoring Black History Month and The Birthday of an Operatic Legend
By: Brad Kronen
Quite a challenge when this is being done in the name of one’s school, one’s state, even one’s country. Imagine doing so for one’s race.
When one is given the responsibility of representing an entire race of people, there is an expectation for there to be a duality of the self. Simultaneously, one must be both alike and separate. One must blend by belonging to a defined group yet must also stick out by virtue of one’s individual attributes and unique abilities. From an astrological perspective, those who represent tend to be born under a particular sign, which amongst the 12 of the Zodiac, is best suited to bear the immense mantle of responsibility through the dualistic act of representation:
Those who represent are almost always born beneath the sign of Aquarius.
Mary Violet Leontyne Price was born on February 10th, 1927, in the deep southern town of Laurel, Mississippi. The world into which she entered was one of enforced segregation based on race and skin color. Leontyne’s unique and unforgettable voice began gaining notoriety through one of the few venues of classical music an African American had access to perform in the late 1950’s, that of the Gershwin opera which requires an all-black cast, “Porgy and Bess”.
Amazingly, when the diva’s planetary ruler which oversees the sign of Aquarius as well as the breaking of societal norms and traditions, Uranus, joined up by conjunction with the planet which rules over mass transformative change, Pluto, throughout the early and mid 1960’s, a force of societal unrest and massive cultural upheaval was unleashed upon our world. This force of societal change allowed Leontyne Price’s voice to soar beyond the token outlets of performance assigned her race, and brightly shine on the international stage through every facet of that vocal aesthetic, otherwise known as opera.
Price’s artistry, along with her Aquarian ability to represent both her race and her country, placed the African American singer in global demand as one of the world’s greatest dramatic sopranos of her generation, who performed with an extensive repetoire consisting of pieces written in Italian, French, German, Russian, as well as her native English, which spanned the medium of opera in its near entirety.
“I was a tradition breaker in the most grandiose art form.” says Price.
The soprano’s first exposure to this “grandiose art form” was, in itself, momentously Aquarian in nature, when Leontyne’s mother took her by bus to hear the great African American contralto, Marian Anderson, in concert in 1937. Price claims that after seeing Anderson perform, she wanted to be like her in every way. Little did the young Aquarian know how this would come to pass in ways that extended far beyond the physical, into the realm of the masses at large.*
Only a year and a half later, Marian Anderson would make American history by virtue of representing her race. Upon hearing that the great singer was banned from giving a recital hosted by The Daughters of the American Revolution (the previous word, coincidentally, describes an event that’s thoroughly Uranian), First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt proceeded to defy the group’s archaic rules of exclusion by race. The Libran First Lady hurriedly organized and last minute managed to put together an outdoor concert for Marian Anderson in front of a statue which commemorates another noteworthy Aquarian of Representation, the Lincoln Memorial, on Easter Sunday, 1939. Anderson’s historic Lincoln Memorial Concert drew crowds never before seen, with over 75,000 in attendance, along with a listening radio audience in the millions.
Marian Anderson would later come to represent her race once again by being the first black artist to perform on the stage of NYC’s Metropolitan Opera in 1955.
Of Things Aquarian ONLY
When the focus of attention is restricted to just things of an Aquarian or Uranian nature, Leontyne Price has stated that each and every time she’s performed and dined in the State Room of the White House, the renowned soprano gives a special salute to the portrait of the 16th President of the United States, who was born beneath the sign of the Water Bearer and was responsible for one of the greatest written Aquarian mandates in humanity’s history. An egalitarian mandate,which although didn’t reach Utopian status, proclaimed to the world that there should exist a set group of people, and that within that group, all are equal – The Emancipation Proclamation.
The opera great explains her reasoning for giving President Lincoln her special salutation:
“He made it possible. He began the ball rolling. That phrase “All men are created equal.” With that in mind, if you are a pioneer and you are a tradition breaker, it’s wonderful to do that and there’s nothing written in the law of your country that says whatever you do won’t make a difference. That’s not the case in my country of America.”
Pioneer. Breaker of traditions. Equality through Rebellion. – attributes assigned to the planet of revolution that was discovered by we Earth folk smack dab in between Western history’s two greatest Revolutions, the American and French, in 1789 – Uranus.
The Astronomy of the Oddball Nature of Uranus
Viewing the planet which rules over the sign of the Water Bearer with simply an astronomical lens alone sheds a major portion of light on the dualistic nature of the Aquarian personality; for no matter how hard they try, or how much they long to be a member of a defined group, the inherent sense of fierce individualism and natural quirkiness associated with the sign of Aquarius forces these Utopia believers to stick out like the most vocal of anarchists. How so?
The Rings of Saturn…and Uranus?
The seventh planet furthest from the Sun has a planetary axis that’s tilted sideways, giving Uranus THE most erratic orbitals of motion around our Sun. (Picture an egg flying through outer space on its side). Because of its orbital motion seeming to practically be on its side, Uranus’ magnetic field does not emanate from the center of the planet, along with the fact its north and south poles lie where all the other lemming planets have their equators! All of these planetary oddball qualities combined give Uranus a feature which many don’t realize:
Like mighty Saturn, Uranus, too, has encircling rings.
But these can’t be just your average, run of the mill, cookie cutter, around your planetary waist hoola hoop rings, O NO!!!! Uranus imitates no one in the stinking Milky Way! These rings circle up and around the planet’s atypical orb.
As if all of that wasn’t Solar System different enough, whereas all the other planets have poser Roman names, Uranus is the only heavenly body orbiting the Sun that bears the very unique differentiation of having the origin of its name be rooted in Greek.
The Astounding Uniqueness of the Physicality of the Aquarian of Representation
When one is born beneath the sign of Aquarius, by right of having Uranus as a planetary ruler, one is naturally different in a unique manner, and as a standard astrological trait, the Water Bearer person inherently stands apart from any given group.
However, when one is born an Aquarian of Representation, the separation from the group, even the group of those born under the sign of individuality, must extend beyond the realm of human personality.
Uranus must leave its mark physically.
Abraham Lincoln’s, lanky, 6’4″ frame, (which for the time was giant-like, given the fact people living in the mid-19th century were significantly shorter compared to today’s standards) made the American President tower over nearly everyone around him, enabling the Aquarian to “stand out”, both literally and figuratively amongst his peers.
For Leontyne Price, the mark of Uranus is physically observable through her vocal trill.
Trill – (noun) A musical embellishment consisting of a rapid alternation between 2 adjacent notes of a scale.
Although born with a naturally high placed, or soprano, voice, Leontyne Price has a chest, or lower, voice that is naturally “thick” or “smoky” sounding. One would think when a soprano is born with a low register that appears to get heavier and thicker the lower the pitch descends, that the voice would be naturally slow moving, causing it to have limited agility with an inability to sing fast musical passages. Taken a step further, those voices that are naturally heavy are not able to produce a trill, due to the vocal weight preventing that natural phenomenon of air locomotion between the vocal chords from naturally happening.
Not so, if the voice in question belongs to an Aquarian of Representation…..
The Thrill Of Her Trill!
Leontyne Price’s trill is a vocal phenomenon unto itself. Hearing it causes me to exclaim with wonder as if I had just witnessed a Blue Angel Jet perform a feat of near mechanical impossibilty in the sky! Price’s trill is so blatant and naturally occurring, its locomotion of air circles faster than the most supple of Olympic figure skaters at the highest degree of revolutionary cycular movement while performing the most dizzying of Figure 8’s.
Although Leontyne’s low register is naturally thick and heavy, her high notes are equally bright and buoyant, causing a vibrational speed to naturally occur with her trill that makes it move like the most tightly wound of toy tops. A feature one does not expect to hear when listening to the rest of Price’s impressive vocal palette of sound. This quirky, “out there”, unexpected, natural example of speed that borders the erratic mirrors the qualities and motion of Ms. Price’s planetary ruler, Uranus.
The pinnacle of Leontyne Price’s vocal abilities as an Aquarian of Representation can clearly be heard through her voice, but especially through her Uranian-marked trills in her 1967 filmed performance of the Verdi Requiem.
Verdi’s Requiem, Milan, Italy, 1967
In 1967, the Austrian conductor of renown, Herbert von Karajan, wanted to assemble an international cast of soloists that would make the best combination of voices possible at that moment in time for the recording of his interpretation with the Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala of a momentous vocal piece penned by one the greatest composers of opera, Giuseppe Verdi. By virtue of the composer and the orchestra, von Karajan chose 2 Italians for his special solo cast, mezzo-soprano Fiorenza Cossotto and a VERY young, pie faced, sans beard tenor from the small town of Modena, named Luciano Pavarotti. Alongside them, a Bulgarian was chosen for the lowest resonances of the solo parts; bass, Nicolai Ghiaurov. Needing a soprano who would have the vocal prowess to match the power of the others while also possessing the etheral fluidity of a shimmering high register, von Karajan would have no other singer to round off this quartet of vocal prominence than African American soprano, Leontyne Price.
Verdi’s Requiem is one of the very few pieces of vocal composition where it is written in the score for each member of the 4 part solos to produce a trill. Males, by virtue of having testosterone, sing in a naturally lower place then females, thus many men do not possess the ability to trill. Any tenor or bass singing the Verdi Requiem must have some semblance of one. In the selected video clip at the top of this article, the men sing their trills individually, giving the listener the best scope of the range of vocal quality and weight involved with the production of a trill.
The men’s passages along with the mezzo soprano’s subsequent delivery of her trill, give Leontyne Price the perfect platform from which to represent her race along with her country as her voice is the last to spin into a vibration which stands drastically apart through its Uranian uniqueness and sublime sound.
*In accordance with Aquarian Representation, the African American protege who would follow Ms. Price’s vocal range, repetoire of roles, and ability to represent both her race and country on the world stage, in particular that of the Metropolitan Opera, was born a decade after Leontyne, almost exactly to the day. Not surprisingly, the next African American dramatic soprano to gain notoriety through her artistic achievement and ability to represent was an Aquarian as well, when the great Martina Arroyo was born on February 2, 1937.
One of Leontyne Price’s best trills from the La Scala Verdi Requiem can be heard in the video clip at the top of this article during the time range of 7:43 – 7:53.