Leontyne Price – American Diva and Aquarian of Representation
Honoring Black History Month and the Birthday of a Vocal Legend
Quite a challenge when the action listed above is 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, a tacit expectation is made 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 also must stand out by virtue of one’s individual attributes and unique abilities. From an astrological perspective, those who represent tend to be born beneath a particular Zodiacal sign, which among the 12 is best suited to bear the imposing mantle of responsibility associated with the dualistic act of representation:
Those who represent tend to be born beneath the sign of Aquarius, the Water Bearer.
Mary Violet Leontyne Price was born an Aquarian 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 a person’s race and skin color. Price’s unique and unforgettable voice initially began its ascent through one of the few venues of classical music an African American had access to perform in the late 1950’s, that of the Ira Gershwin opera requiring an all-black cast, “Porgy and Bess”.
Uranus is the planetary ruler which oversees both the sign of Aquarius along with the breaking of societal norms and traditions. Throughout the decade of the 1960’s Uranus came into a series of touch-and-go conjunctions with the planet of transformational change, Pluto, causing a force of cultural upheaval to be unleashed upon American society at large. This force of societal and cultural change blazed a pathway for Leontyne Price’s voice to soar beyond the token outlets of performance assigned to her race and brightly shine on the international stage through every facet of that most demanding of vocal aesthetics, 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 repertoire consisting of pieces written in Italian, French, German, Russian, as well as her native English, which spanned the medium of opera nearly in its 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 at 10 years old in 1937 to hear Marian Anderson sing in concert. Price claims she wanted to be like Anderson in every way after seeing the great African American contralto perform. Little did the young Aquarian know how this would come to pass in ways which extended far beyond the physical and 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 as a vocal artist of renown. In the spring of 1939, the singer known for her mastery of lieder and art songs was scheduled to give a recital at Washington D.C.’s Constitution Hall, owned and operated by The Daughters of the American Revolution (the previous word, coincidentally, describes an event that’s thoroughly Uranian). However Anderson’s singing engagement was abruptly cancelled due to the DAR not allowing integrated audiences to occur within Constitution Hall along with their imposing a “whites only” policy for artists performing there. Upon being told of the organization’s racially exclusive rules, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt reacted in bold defiance. Mrs. Roosevelt not only resigned her membership to the DAR, the Libran First Lady managed to hurriedly arrange an outdoor concert for Marian Anderson in front of a statue that 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 estimated to have been in the millions.
Focusing on strictly the Aquarian side of Things
Leontyne Price states whenever she has performed in the State Room of the White House, the famed soprano gives a special salute to the portrait of the 16th President of the United States, who was also born beneath the sign of the Water Bearer and was responsible for one of the greatest written Aquarian mandates in humanity’s history. Abraham Lincoln’s egalitarian directive may not have reached Utopian status as originally intended, but his momentous decree was a first of its kind to clearly state that there should exist a set group of people, and that within that group, all are equal – The Emancipation Proclamation.
The opera legend 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 Oddest Planet of them All
Observing the planet which rules over the sign of the Water Bearer strictly through an astronomical lens unto itself sheds some 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 typically displayed by the Aquarius forces them to stick out like the sorest of thumbs.
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). Where the other planets’ axes range between 3 degrees (Jupiter) to 29 (Saturn, Neptune), Uranus stands far apart from the rest of the heavenly bodies orbiting the center of our Solar System with its axis tilt being 98 degrees off its orbital plane from the Sun. Because its orbital motion propels it practically on its side, Uranus’ magnetic field doesn’t emanate from the center of the planet and its north and south poles lie where all the other lemming planets have their equators. All of these planetary oddball qualities combined provides Uranus with a surface feature which most 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’ rings circle up and around the planet’s atypical orb.
As if that wasn’t Solar System different enough, whereas the other planetary residents all have poser Roman names, Uranus is the only heavenly body orbiting our Sun that bears the very unique distinction of its name being Greek in origin.
The Unique 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 inherently different in a unique manner and as an astrological standard, the typical Aquarian individually sets themselves apart from any given group.
However, when one is born an Aquarian of Representation, one’s natural sense of separateness from any given group extends beyond the traits of mere human personality.
Uranus leaves its mark physically.
Abraham Lincoln’s lanky, 6’4″ frame, which for his time was giant-like in 1860, given the average male stood at 5’7″ at that time, made the American President tower over everyone around him, causing the Aquarian to “stand out”, both literally and figuratively among 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, weightier voices aren’t able to produce trills due to the air locomotion between the vocal chords not being able to naturally “spin” fast enough back and forth.
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. Its natural speed of air locomotion when put in visual terms could be compared to the centrifugal force created when an Olympic figure skater drops themselves into a visual blur while performing the most dizzying of Figure 8’s.
Although her low register is naturally thick and heavy, Ms. Price’s high notes are equally bright and buoyant, causing a vibrational speed to naturally occur with her trill where its revolutionary spin can be likened to 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 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 career as an Aquarian of Representation occurred in 1967 when both the diva’s voice and her Uranian-marked trills were in their prime and captured on film while performing as the soprano soloist in the Verdi Requiem.
Verdi Requiem, Milan, Italy, 1967
In 1967, the Austrian conductor of renown, Herbert von Karajan, wanted to assemble an international cast of soloists consisting of the best combination of voices possible at that time to record with the Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala the Requiem Mass composed by the father of grand opera, Giuseppe Verdi. By virtue of the composer and the orchestra’s country of origin, von Karajan chose two 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 could match the vocal prowess of the other soloists but also possess the ethereal fluidity of a shimmering high register, von Karajan would have no other singer to round off this vocally prestigious quartet than African American soprano, Leontyne Price.
The Verdi Requiem is one of the few vocal compositions where it is written in the score for each of the 4 soloists to produce a trill. Due to the presence of testosterone in their bodies, males sing naturally lower than females, leaving many men unable to trill. A tenor or bass soloist singing the Verdi Requiem, however, must be able to produce some semblance of one. In the video clip below, the bass and tenor soloists sing their trills individually, providing a full perspective 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 that stands drastically apart through its Uranian uniqueness and sublime sound.
One of Leontyne Price’s best trills from the La Scala Verdi Requiem can be heard in the above video clip during the time range of 7:43 – 7:49.
*Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc. is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.