AIDA, narrated by Leontyne Price, London Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf conducts (RCA Red Seal) This CD, encased in a fold-out jacket containing illustrations from the award-winning "kids' book" Aida Told by Leontyne Price, features perhaps Aida's greatest exponent in the history of recording, the retired diva Leontyne Price, in the dual role of storyteller and protagonist. Price's narration, the result of her first foray into the recording studio in 17 years, is, in a word, fab.
Mary Leontyne Violet Price was born in Laurel, Mississippi. Many of her earliest color barrier-breaking triumphs, inclu- ding a 1952 Paris performance in Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts, a 1953 Library of Congress recital of Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs accompanied by Barber, and a 1957 San Francisco Opera debut in Francis Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites, featured music composed by another disenfranchised minority: gay men.
Leontyne the storyteller delights with her accent's charming mixture of operatically coached English and African-American Mississippi (Aah-e鼯I>-duh), and her recitation is impeccably timed and convincing. Though vocal excerpts from her 1970 recording offer singing neither as fresh nor as perfect as in her first 1962 outing, the voice is still gorgeous, and she provides more dramatic nuance than before.
Ms. Price fully identifies with Aida, an Ethiopian princess captured and enslaved by Egyptian enemies who falls in love with the Egyptian captain, betrays him, ends up entombed with him, and suffocates only an hour after hitting a high "C." Despite narration sometimes intruding jarringly on the ends of musical excerpts, this disc is a winner, garnering yet more bouquets for the irreplaceable Ms. Price.