everything grows with love

Stories about My Experiences with Writers & Illustrators Who Bring Light into the World…by Bonnie Ingber Verburg

Leontyne Price: AIDA

The paintings by Leo & Diane Dillon are finished for Leontyne Price’s picture book: Aida. It is my job to carry the carefully wrapped package of art on a train from New York City to Baltimore, where I’m to show these originals to Ms. Price. Of course I know her voice and her music, especially her role as Aida, but I don’t know her well; we have spoken on the phone and have corresponded back and forth to finalize the manuscript, but I have no idea what to expect. Her brother, Army General George Price, has arranged my trip, and I am to check into my hotel and then attend her concert that evening. After the concert, her family will gather at a restaurant for dinner. All day on the train I am holding the Dillons’ art on my lap, and I keep thinking about the  story of how Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, gathered every scrap of his first novel, packed it up to surprise him, and took it to him on a train–where she lost the suitcase. It was never recovered, and he didn’t finish that novel; I’m guessing it put a strain on their marriage. I do not want to lose or damage the Dillons’ magnificent art. Every painting is a miracle.

Cover of

Cover of AIDA

The concert is more than memorable. Leontyne Price repeatedly brings the eager audience to tears; her presence is larger than life. Afterward, the restaurant is elegant. Of course she is thrilled with the art, and so is the rest of the family. The power at that table–the accomplishments of her relatives–make the table seem to float with the glow of it all. We are sipping champagne. At one point in the dinner, Ms. Price sings a single note. The restaurant stops. Time stops. The note is the kind that shatters crystal. She laughs. And then everyone goes back to eating.

Months later, when we have a party at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City to celebrate the publication of her book, I will escort her from her home in New York in a long stretch limo to the opera house. As we walk up he broad stairs, she will make a sweeping, dramatic gesture with her arm and smile at me. “If you have to die,” she will say, referring to her role as Aida, “there is no place more splendid to die than the Met.”

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