Callaway Interviews: Leontyne Price; Episode no. 406

John Callaway interviews Leontyne Price, a world-famous soprano and one of the first African Americans to perform in lead roles at the Metropolitan Opera.

0:00Copy video clip URL Slate and count-in.

0:11Copy video clip URL Show open.

0:22Copy video clip URL Callaway begins talking to Leontyne Price to introduce the show. “My voice is a soaring warm sound,” says Price.

1:40Copy video clip URL Pictures of Price when she was younger under a soundtrack of her operatic singing.

2:03Copy video clip URL Callaway introduces the greatness of Price’s opera performances and gives a historical background of her childhood. Price talks about growing up in a loving family in St. Paul, Minnesota.

5:40Copy video clip URL Price talks about the spiritual background of her singing, and how it propels her life. She talks about opera and her mission to teach younger people from her own experiences. She talks about the difference between what she got from her mother and from her father.

12:45Copy video clip URL Callaway asks leading questions about Price’s time in college, and Price describes mentors who she met while a student.

13:40Copy video clip URL Price talks about moving to New York City to study at Julliard, winning the roll of Bess from Ira Gershwin in “Porgy and Bess.” She talks about the Metropolitan Opera taking a chance by casting her as the lead in “Tosca.” She talks about issues of race in the arts: “It is never the black artist’s problem…It’s so simplistic it’s ridiculous.”

19:50Copy video clip URL Callaway asks, “Did you always know that you could hear your voice and know yourself?” Price: “The voice is the most personal instrument… Our [instrument] is the whole package. We carry the whole thing around with us from day to day.” She talks about the risks, sacrifices, and benefits of having a special talent, and gives her advice to young people about these things. “You are never dead. You are never forgotten. [Art] is a contribution that is ever ever present.”

26:32Copy video clip URL Price talks about her biggest influences and mentors. Price: “Oh, I give everyone credit…But I’m very very precise at whom I give credit to.” She talks about her failed marriage to her “Porgy.” She says, “I always wonder if you can be a certain kind of artist if you’re too happy.” She says that being a performer is an “unmitigated ball.”

36:35Copy video clip URL Callaway talks about Price’s success as Cio-Cio-San and Aida. He introduces the “thorns” in her career which happened in the early ’60s: an occasion on which her voice gave out in 1961 and her performance in the failed opera “Antony and Cleopatra.” She discusses these traumatic periods of her career. She talks about growing older and continuing with her art, and her exasperation with being asked about her age or impending retirement. She describes her elation at receiving a 42-minute ovation at her Metropolitan Opera debut. She says “there are moments now where I even put on tapes of the applause (laughs).”

45:10Copy video clip URL Callaway asks Price about the time her voice gave out during a performance of “La fanciulla del West”: “It certainly was [a crisis] for the audience that paid for the performance, my dear!” Price remembers, laughing. She says that it was due to being overtired, not the role–she later performed the role of Minnie in Dallas to great acclaim. “No one has bothered to mention that. I don’t like to leave anything unless I conquer it.”

58:20Copy video clip URL End credits roll while Price gives advice to young singers about trying to be the best they can.

59:14Copy video clip URL End of tape.



  1. It’s one of my favorite interviews. Hope you digitize it soon!

  2. newbeginxyz says:

    This is a great interview. I saw this interview during the 1980s on TV and lost the video tape. I am so happy to have re-discovered this wonderful dialogue with Leontyne Price. It is such an incredible experience listening and digesting the voice and words of Miss Price.

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