Dame Margaret Price

Dame Margaret Price

Last updated: 31 January 2011

One of the most beautiful, luminous voices ever to grace the opera and concert stages.

Dame Margaret Price, though maybe not a household name like Dame Gwyneth Jones, achieved legendary status with her singing of some of the most difficult and elusive music in the repertoire - that of Mozart - using a winning combination of purity and beauty of tone and a flawless technique.

Born to a musical family in Blackwood, Margaret Price was encouraged to sing by her family, though she rarely competed at Eisteddfodau and her father was against a career in music. Her sights were set on becoming a biology teacher - "I absolutely adored cutting up frogs," she once said - but her music teacher in school had other ideas.

On his recommendation she went to London to sing to Charles Kennedy Scott. He insisted that she came to study with him immediately, before her voice was ruined by bad teaching. Margaret Price claimed "that was actually only so that nobody else could get their hands on me".

So, at the tender age of 15, she was awarded a scholarship to study with Scott at the Trinity College of Music. She was singing mezzo and concentrating on the Lieder repertoire at this time, and won a major Lieder prize at the college. But all this was soon set to change.

By this time, Margaret's father was resigned to her following a musical career, and wrote on her behalf to a number of opera houses. As a result, she made her acclaimed operatic debut with the Welsh National Opera as Cherubino in Mozart's Marriage Of Figaro in 1962.

Within a year she had passed an audition at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and was engaged as understudy to Teresa Berganza in the same role. One night, the star fell ill - and her moment came. She became famous overnight - and there was no looking back.

At this point, she was still singing mezzo. But when she auditioned for the Royal Opera House she was accompanied by James Lockhart, then working there as repetiteur but who was later to become an influential operatic conductor. He became her singing coach, and under his guidance her voice developed into a sweet, clear yet powerful instrument.

Lockhart was to remain a hugely influential figure in Margaret Price's life for nearly fifteen years, both as conductor and accompanist for Lieder recitals.

Over the next few years she gradually became sought after throughout the world, with Sir Geraint Evans having a hand in establishing her in America by engaging her to sing Pamina in his production of Mozart's The Magic Flute in San Francisco.

In 1971 she sang the role of Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni at Cologne Opera, and was hailed by the German press as one of the greatest talents of the age, and she was to appear in many roles both in Cologne and Munich, where she made her home until her retirement in 1999 when she returned to Wales.

Margaret Price made many recordings of both opera and Lieder, and her voice matured into a richness ideal for many Verdi roles. She always took good care of her voice, being very careful about taking on only the roles for which she felt her voice was suited.

She returned to Wales to perform many times, including recordings of Mozart's C Minor Mass and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis for BBC Wales TV in the 1980s.

She was awarded the CBE in 1982 followed by the DBE in 1993, and the Munich Opera honoured her with the title Bayerische Kammersangerin.

Dame Margaret Price died in January 2011.

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