Operatic soprano and Tony-winner Patricia Neway, best known for her associations with Gian Carlo Menotti and Rodgers and Hammerstein, died peacefully in her home in Corinth, Vermont on January 24, 2012 of natural causes. Ms. Neway was 92.
Born in Brooklyn, in 1919, Neway studied at the Mannes College of Music, making her professional debut in the Broadway chorus of Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne in 1942. Her first leading role in an opera came courtesy of a 1942 production of Cosi fan Tutti with the Chautauqua Opera. Neway performed regularly with the NYCO from 1951-1966, making her debut in the world premiere of Tamkin’s The Dybbuk and originating The Mother in Weisgall’s Six Characters in Search of an Author (opposite Beverly Sills). The soprano was featured soloist of the Opera Comique in Paris from 1952-54, singing Tosca and Katherina Mihaylovna in Risurrezione, as well as principal singer in the first two seasons of the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy.
A self-proclaimed hybrid, Ms. Neway famously helped Menotti bring opera to Broadway. She created a sensation as Magda Sorel in the Pulitzer Prize winning original Broadway production of The Consul, in which she stopped the show with the climactic aria “To This We’ve Come.” She would go onto sing the role in the opera’s London and Paris premieres, and later recreated the role for television in 1960. Her association with Menotti continued as the Mother in Maria Golovin, a role she premiered in Brussels in 1957, which she later played on Broadway and with the NYCO. Neway also appeared in NYCO productions of The Medium and Amahl and the Night Visitors.
Most notably, Ms. Neway originated the role of the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music opposite star Mary Martin, introducing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” to the public. She won the Best Featured Actress Tony for her efforts. In the 1960s, her association with Rodgers and Hammerstein continued with revivals of The King and I (Lady Thiang) at Lincoln Center and Carousel (Nettie Fowler) at the City Center. Neway also appeared in a 1967 TV version of the latter starring Robert Goulet. (I’m not one hundred percent positive, but I think Ms. Neway is the only person to have played these three roles in major NY productions).
The dramatic soprano retired to Corinth, VT where she lived with her husband John Francis Byrne, who passed away in 2008. Speaking with Ms. Neway’s niece today, I learned that the soprano enjoyed her life immensely, from the success of her career to the privacy of her retirement. On February 25, Vermont Public Radio will be live streaming a retrospective on the soprano’s career.