The first of three new Eloquence box sets brings together the recordings made by coloratura soprano Kathleen Battle for Deutsche Grammophon in the 1980s and early 90s.

A glamorous African-American woman, Battle was in many ways a throwback to an earlier kind of opera star. She could float high notes exquisitely with apparent ease, and her coloratura was nimble and accurate. James Levine loved her and worked with her a lot.

Kathleen Battle

Kathleen Battle. Photo © Eloquence

She also personified the downside of older opera stars: a total diva, she became infamously difficult to work with. Colleagues avoided her, and her unacceptable behaviour eventually had her banned from the Met. Her international opera career came to a premature end in the mid-1990s.

Since 2000, Battle has been performing spirituals and various crossover projects with popular artists like Bobby McFerrin and Queen Latifah. (None of that is included here, apart from a 1991 live concert of spirituals with Jessye Norman.)

There is no doubt Battle had a gorgeous voice. Listen to her float the top notes of Gershwin’s Summertime, in a recording with André Previn with what you might call air-brushed sound. It is...