Patricia Neway (1919-2012)

Patricia Neway - Lady M

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.

Patricia Neway wins a Tony

Before the nationwide telecast of the Tony Awards, the awards used to be held in a hotel ballroom in the midtown area. Before Alexander Cohen turned it into the event it became, it was a simple affair and there were no performances. The ceremony was telecast locally in NY, and here is a quick sample of 1959’s winner for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Patricia Neway, accepting for the original production of The Sound of Music, in which she played the Mother Abbess.

Included after the Tony footage is a photo montage of Neway set to a live recording of the act one finale of The Sound of Music from 1960 (For the neophytes: she sings “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” to dramatically bring down the curtain on act one). Enjoy:


The Reverend Mother Played Poker

That was just one of the many anecdotal gems I heard yesterday afternoon during the 50th anniversary celebration of The Sound of Music at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble. Bringing together authors, original cast and family members, the event was more an affectionate reunion than anything else, and proved to be an unexpectedly moving experience.

Arriving at the bookstore about an hour early, I spent my time observing the fans lined up with wrist bands and their memorabilia. They had among them original gatefold LP releases and Playbills, as well as copies of the new cast album CD, and The Sound of Music pop-up book. Looking through the glass doors to the performance area, I caught sight of Theodore Bikel rehearsing with a guitar. I couldn’t hear him singing, but was mesmerized at the mere sight of him.

It was a surreal moment: exactly fifty years ago to the date – and on the same day of the week, no less – this man was costarring opposite Mary Martin in what would prove to be the final, and most popular, Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. I’m sure everyone involved at the time had hoped they would have a hit show, but I doubt they knew the cultural phenomenon that was to come with its success and the subsequent blockbuster film adaptation in 1965.

Joined by my very own Elsa, as well as Byrne, the three of us took our seats second row center and watched for about thirty minutes as original cast members greeted one another while the original cast album played on the overhead speakers. Mary Rodgers Guettel, daughter of Richard and Anna Crouse, widow of Russel, greeted fans and friends from their seats over on the right. Actors who hadn’t seen one another years were rekindling and reconnecting. It was particularly heartwarming to see such genuine affection, much like you would find in for a high school class reunion. We discovered who these folks were in Ted Chapin’s introduction, we ended up sitting behind four of the original nuns.

Chapin invoked the old chestnut of “starting at the very beginning,” and to kick off the festivities Finian’s Rainbow star Kate Baldwin was on hand to sing the legendary title song with her usual resplendence and grace. Baldwin herself once played Maria in a production with St. Louis MUNY in 2005, involving “82 children and a raccoon.”

Laurence Maslon, author of The Sound of Music Companion and The South Pacific Companion, was the evening’s moderator and introduced us to Maria’s grandson, Sam von Trapp, who is the vice president of special projects at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont and to Bert Fink, senior vice president for communications at the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, who had contributed liner notes to the cast album reissue and wrote the new pop-up book.

Mr. von Trapp talked briefly about growing up with his famed grandmother, and how after seeing the film once when he was around six or seven, was pretty much kept away from the material. It wasn’t until he was in his twenties and in South America when people asked him excitedly if he was related to La Novicia Rebelde (The Rebel Novice, the Latin American title for the film) that his family’s story was so impactful. At that point he started to understand that there was something substantial going on, and on his return home asked “What’s up with this musical?” Mr. von Trapp only briefly touched on his grandmother, who died when he was fifteen.

Mr. Fink talked a bit about the real story of the Trapp Family Singers and their plight, and comparing and contrasting the history and myth behind their escape from Nazi controlled Austria. If you weren’t in attendance yesterday, much of what he said is laid out within his superb liner notes. There are considerable differences between the idealized Maria, and her much stronger and the actual, no-nonsense historical figure. Fink quoted Theodore Bikel, who once referred to her as “a tyrannical saint.” Fink went onto describe the real Maria as someone “who knew when she was right” and as a “figure who held the family together.”

Then Mr. Maslon introduced the original Rolf and Liesl – Brian Davies and Lauri Peters. Davies also appeared on Broadway as the original Hero in Forum and in James Joyce’s The Dead. Maslon said he had an incredibly difficult time tracking down Peters, only to discover that she had taught in his building at NYU. Peters had some minor success as an actress following The Sound of Music, most notably as James Stewart and Maureen O’Hara’s eldest child in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, but has spent much of her adult life teaching and writing about the Meisner acting technique.

The duo fondly recalled their time together, with Davies admitting that he was too young at the time to realize what the musical was saying to audiences all too familiar with the horrors of WWII. Quite the raconteur, Davies reminisced how “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” was staged for an elaborate set only to discover it didn’t fit inside in the theatre in New Haven. In the interim while the set was being adapted, choreographer Joe Layton hastily restaged the number around a bench. Layton found he liked it better this way and kept it as is.

Peter, who exudes a charming youthfulness, was asked about what it was like to be nominated for a Tony Award. She confessed that when she learned of her nomination she hadn’t an idea what a Tony was, and also how she shared the nomination (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) with the other six von Trapp children including the boys. She recalled “Miss Martin” as a professional who set the tone for the entire company, but felt that the term “professional” was slighting the star’s personality. Peters classified Martin as “warm, funny, kind, genuine” but also stressed “the work and the audience were what mattered most.” There was “no hanky-panky” and no “upstaging” on Martin’s watch.

Both actors agreed it was a “great introduction to professional behavior in the theatre.” However, Davies did tell an amusing anecdote from an incident that took place nine months into the show’s run. As Rolf, one of his props was his bicycle and on one night where he wasn’t paying particular attention, Davies sent the bike rolling directly into the orchestra. After the curtain call, he received the notification “Could you please come to Miss Martin’s dressing room?” Expecting the worst, he was brought inside where the star immediately proceeded to tell him about the night she cartwheeled right off the stage into the pit during “A Wonderful Guy” during the original run of South Pacific, in an effort to dilute the younger actor’s embarrassment.

Then it was time for Theodore Bikel, the original Captain von Trapp. Bikel has had an extensive career in film, television and theatre, with an Emmy Award, and nominations for both the Oscar and Tony. On his introduction, the 85 year old star told the audience that Davies and Peters should sing “I am sixty going on seventy.” Bikel, who was an established folk singer as well as an actor, talked of his audition for the show, in which he sang some numbers by Frank Loesser. He had also brought his guitar with him. While Bikel was accompanying himself on a traditional folk song, Martin turned to Rodgers and said “We don’t have to look much further, do we?”

Bikel, a remarkable storyteller, told the crowd that eleven days before the New York opening, Rodgers & Hammerstein still felt that the second act needed another number and collaborated – for what was to be the last time – on the song “Edelweiss.” (“A genuine Austrian folk song,” he quipped). It struck Bikel as moving and appropriate that the final word Mr. Hammerstein ever wrote for the theatre was “forever.”

When asked for insight into the show’s success and universal appeal with audiences, Bikel talked about the show’s innocence. He said that the musical has “an aura of reality surrounded by myth and people love that.” He further mused, “How can you go wrong in a show with children and nuns?” He also told of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s backstage visit post-show, and how she tearily told him how this story of a family escaping over the mountains was the story of her own life. Bikel reminded her that she had married a well-to-do Turkish gentleman and emigrated to the US without much turmoil.

Mr. Bikel was then asked to compare himself with the character of Captain von Trapp. He said that there weren’t many similarities since as a child in Vienna, he didn’t travel in aristocratic circles. Bikel, who is Jewish, became a refugee because he had no choice and had to uproot himself from his homeland and culture in order to survive. The same didn’t apply for the Captain. He did have the choice to collaborate with the Third Reich, but didn’t because he thought they were barbarians. He further expounded that up until that point Nazism hadn’t been seen dramatized onstage, let alone in musicals. The creative team slowly softened the edges during tryouts. Swastikas were removed, Nazi uniforms were made more nondescript and the “Heil Hitler” became a simple “Heil.” He said he was a Broadway musical novice and didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, but did offer the criticism that the original production was “Holocaust lite.”

In the most moving and unforgettable moment of the evening, Mr. Maslon asked Mr. Bikel if he would close the event with a performance of “Edelweiss.” Mr. Bikel sat down with a guitar (which he said he borrowed from Peter Yarrow) at the microphone and offered two tender refrains of the touching ballad, sounding remarkably the same as he did when he first sang it.

Afterwards, as folks lined up to get their CDs and books signed by the dais, I took the occasion to ask the “nuns” in front of us about Patricia Neway, as I am a huge admirer of her work, and had addressed some interesting claims regarding her whereabouts this past summer. I was pleased to hear Ms. Neway is still alive and living in Vermont. The former opera singer, who turned 90 this past September, was widowed last November and is confined to a wheelchair because of arthritis, but is still quite sharp.

I wish there had been more of a discussion with these ladies, whose vivid memories of the experience of putting on the original show were observational and insightful. Sarah snapped this great photo of them. The one on the right is Bernice Saunders, who was also an alumni of the original Broadway cast of South Pacific. I know two of the other three ladies are Ceil Delli and Mimi Vondra, (and if anyone knows the name of the third, please send me an email). They told us what it was like backstage: the nun’s chorus shared a large dressing room. There was a schism between the serious classical singers and the chorines. The Broadway group called themselves “The Musical Comedy Club” and were often found in their half of the dressing room playing poker during the long periods they were offstage. Ms. Neway was also running a game in her dressing room.

Walking back through midtown, I stopped in the middle of Times Square as I listened to the original cast on my iPod. I had just met some of these very voices that first brought this historic musical to life. I paused and looked at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Fifty years ago there were limousines pulling up with the great celebrities and Broadway aristocrats. On this mild evening, there was darkness. The Little Mermaid, the theatre’s most previous tenant, had taken down its marquee. I resisted the brief urge to go over and write “The Sound of Music was here.” Instead of committing vandalism, I came home trying to wrap my head around the sort of experience I had that afternoon. Theodore Bikel was right in his observation regarding the final word Hammerstein wrote, and taking it a step further, The Sound of Music is “forever.”

"The Sound of Music" original cast television appearances

I’m still reeling from attending the 50th anniversary celebration at Lincoln Center, but before I wrap my head around all that I experienced today, I thought I’d continue The Sound of Music festivities with some choice videos of the original cast.

First up are the Tony-nominated von Trapp children (all seven in Best Featured Actress in a Musical…take that, Billy Elliot) appear on an episode of “What’s My Line? during the summer of 1960:

Tony-winner Patricia Neway (not Frances Breeze) and The Sound of Music nuns (including some glorious ladies I met today) perform “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” on Ed Sullivan’s Christmas special on December 20, 1959:

And now for a real rarity, Mary Martin accepts her Best Actress in a Musical Tony for show on April 24, 1960 in the Astor Hotel ballroom. The Tony Awards telecast was a simple banquet affair with no major production numbers and an emphasis on the awards being given out. Eddie Albert was the master of ceremonies and the evening’s sole entertainment was provided by Meyer Davis and his Orchestra:

"The Sound of Music" 50th Anniversary

Due to the overwhelming success of the film adaptation of The Sound of Music, the original stage production often gets lost in the shuffle. The soundtrack is infinitely more popular. Julie Andrews is still a cultural icon and likely to remain so for generations to come. Not to mention the film is still one of the most successful of all time, having broken countless records on its initial release in 1965. And I must confess, the film adaptation is one of the few cinematic adaptations that is an improvement on the original stage source. The show originally opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on November 16, 1959 and in celebration of the Golden Anniversary, Masterworks Broadway has reissued the original cast album.

The Sound of Music, which was inspired by the story of Maria von Trapp and her family’s escape from Nazi occupation in Austria, starred three-time Tony winner Mary Martin. Vincent J. Donehue, the musical’s director, had seen the German films based on the Trapp story and thought they would make a good stage vehicle for Martin, as opposed to a proposed Paramount film starring Audrey Hepburn. They brought on Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, who had written the smash hit Life with Father and the libretto for the hit Irving Berlin-Ethel Merman vehicle Call Me Madam, to adapt the story for stage. The original idea was to create a play with music, using actual pieces sung by the family. Things changed when Martin approached Rodgers and Hammerstein, the men behind her greatest stage triumph South Pacific, to write a special song for her. They balked at that idea, insisting that would only write a full scale musical.

When the show opened, it was met with mixed notices. While the score was pleasant, the story and libretto weren’t up to the usual standard of the R&H canon. Their reputation for musical theatre had been to advance the artform, and this was seen by many critics as a step backward. (It was also the only show where Hammerstein didn’t have a direct hand in the libretto, so one can speculate if that might have contributed to the leaden book). For some critics, the presence of seven children, happy singing nuns and bad boy Nazis in a swirl of lederhosen and strudel proved far too treacly and reeked of moldy operetta. However, the critics did little to quell the audience response to the show. It had an advance of $2 million, and would run for 1,443 performances on Broadway and for 2,385 performances in the record-breaking original London engagement. It was to be the final Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, as Oscar Hammerstein died on August 23, 1960 from cancer.

At the 1960 Tonys, Martin famously bested Merman (then appearing in Gypsy) for Best Actress. (The Merm’s equally famous response “Well, you can’t buck a nun.”) Opera singer Patricia Neway won Best Featured Actress, Oliver Smith won for his Scenic Design and Frederick Dvonch won for his Conducting and Musical Direction. In an unprecedented twist, the show tied for the Best Musical Tony with the Pulitzer Prize winning Fiorello! (Gypsy, arguably the best musical ever written, went home empty-handed that night). The original cast album was released by Columbia records, and proved to be a best-seller. I have the original LP release and it’s one of those lavish gatefolds that opens up with pictures and text.

While I have had a long love affair with the film version, when it comes to actually listening to the score I tend to play the original cast album more often. Martin, who at 46 was far too old to play a postulant, was nevertheless a charmer. While her singing won’t erase your memories of Andrews’ crisp soprano, the cast album performance exudes that warmth and star quality that made her popular with audiences for years. Martin herself said that her voice never recovered from years of belting Annie Get Your Gun and her instrument, rather fragile to begin with went into decline over the rest of her career. Others I know have issue with her performance on this album, but for me it’s Jennie where things really started to become noticably problematic. I feel her performance can be summed up in one fraction of a second: her giggle at the end of “Do-Re-Mi.” That giggle sums up the personality that was Mary Martin – charming, warm and playful; the embodiment of the star presence that made her an audience favorite for thirty years.

It’s also interesting to compare the stage score with its film counterpart. “My Favorite Things” is originally sung by Maria and the Reverend Mother (Patricia Neway) in the scene before Maria leaves for the von Trapp home. “The Lonely Goatherd” was sung to quell the children’s fears during the thunderstorm. Max and Elsa (Kurt Kaznar and Marion Marlowe) had two dynamite numbers onstage: the droll “How Can Love Survive?” in the first act and the unusually catchy “No Way to Stop It” to start the second. The supporting cast on the album is superlative.
Neway’s Mother Abbess is my favorite on record, delivering a stirring, dignified rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” Actor/folk singer Theodore Bikel offers a tender rendition of “Edelweiss,” the last song written by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The only dud in the entire score, and one of the worst songs ever written by R&H, is the lugubrious “An Ordinary Couple” which was replaced with “Something Good” for the movie. The original cast album was also produced by the master, Goddard Lieberson and boasts the orchestrations of Robert Russell Bennett and the choral arrangements of Trude Rittman.

The album was previously remastered and reissued in 1998. The original material remains the same, though the album itself is now packaged in an environmentally friendly cardboard sleeve. However, there are new bonus tracks with this new release. The most substantial is the highly amusing “From Switzerland: The Family Pratt,” which features Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett in their 1962 TV spoof of the musical (Sony should get that whole special out on CD). There is also a cut from the live 2005 Austrian cast album performance of “Edelweiss,” which was the first time the show was ever staged in the country (the Austrians have long harbored an aversion to the von Trapp story). Finally there is unexpected curio: Tommy Korberg, who was The Russian on the concept album and in the original London production of Chess, singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” in Swedish.

There are also brand new liner notes by Bert Fink, Senior Vice President for Communications at the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, offering a concise and informative essay on the show’s history as well as some background on the bonus material. The usual production photos are dispersed throughout, but this time there are also some new shots from the actual recording session (Nov. 22, 1959 at Columbia’s 30th Street Studios), including Bikel with the kids during a break, and Martin embracing the kids during a take. There is also a picture of a very soulful Neway recording her aria. For those who already have this album on disc, I only suggest upgrading for the purists among you who want the new tracks and notes. However, if you don’t own this cast album, I can’t recommend it enough. It’ll never supplant the beloved soundtrack for many of you, but it does offer a warm and inviting alternate reading of a long beloved score.

In the spirit of the 50th anniversary, Simon and Schuster has also released a Classic Collectible Pop-Up book of The Sound of Music, adapted by Mr. Fink, with illustrations by Dan Andreasan and paper engineering by Bruce Foster. Adapted from the Lindsay and Crouse libretto, Fink has streamlined the script into an engaging storybook text, with many of the score’s most well known lyrics incorporated into the book. I am rather impressed with how each page creates such an intricate three dimensional image based on the show, and further smaller surprises in the smaller flip-out sections of the book. I never thought I’d ever find myself reading a children’s pop-up book, but I’m most amused that I have. It’s not suitable for children under three years, so I’m going to have to wait a couple years before I can let the Baby Jack get his hands on it.

Note: Today is the show’s 50th anniversary, and there is going to be a celebration at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble at 66th and Broadway this afternoon with guest appearances by original cast members Theodore Bikel, Lauri Peters and Brian Davies. Mary Rodgers, Anna Crouse (daughter of Russel) and Maria von Trapp’s grandson Sam von Trapp will be special guests at the event. Also present will be R&H, Inc. president Ted Chapin and Lawrence Maslon, author of The Sound of Music Companion. Broadway starlet Kate Baldwin will be on hand to sing the famed title song, and Mr. Bikel will reprise “Edelweiss.” The event starts at 5PM, and will be followed by a CD and book signing.

In Her Own Words: Patricia Neway on "The Consul"

While I was aware that the 1960 television production of Gian-Carlo Menotti’s opera The Consul was released on DVD by VAI, I didn’t know until very recently that they also released a 2-CD soundtrack recording of the telecast. A 2-LP original cast album was made by Decca in 1949 and languished in the vaults for many years. The good news, it’s also been made available on CD, in a boxed set including Menotti’s two other operas, The Medium and The Telephone. The bad news – they are not officially remastered by the original recording companies and editorial reviews comment on their lack of good sound quality. (Come on, Decca. Get on the ball!)

As I listened to the stirring, haunting score I read through the brief liner notes and found this recollection of the original show by the star Patricia Neway.

This is what the acclaimed soprano had to say about The Consul:

The experience of preparing and presenting The Consul was unique. The opera was produced on Broadway with the usual schedule of eight performances of a week and was called a musical drama instead of an opera in order not to discourage a broad audience.

After Gian-Carlo chose his singers there were backers’ auditions in which several cast members did scenes without sets or costumes. Guests were invited as prospective backers to the homes of prominent people who hosted the evenings. It was exciting and challenging for all of us. I have one vivid memory – Gian-Carlo handing me a penciled musical manuscript and telling me that I was to sing it at the next backers’ audition two days later. It happened to be at the home of Virgil Thomson, the composer and formidable critic on the Herald Tribune, at his apartment in New York City’s historic Chelsea Hotel. The first line of the manuscript read “To this we’ve come,” Magda’s aria at the end of the second act! I didn’t have time to absorb all that I was dealing with, but when I finished singing it I was trembling from head to toe. It was my first realization of what a powerfully moving role I had been trusted with and what a remarkable work The Consul was.

When we started regular rehearsals with the whole cast, we had the privilege of working with Gian-Carlo as composer and director. It was inspiring to have his genius guiding us. As we got close to opening, my colleagues and I would discuss what we thought was ahead of us. Many thought that we would have an artistic success but only a moderately successful run considering the seriousness of The Consul’s subject matter and its tragic outcome.

On opening night there were no questions anymore. The opera was a phenomenal success – the ovation after Magda’s second act aria seemed to go on forever – the reviews were ecstatic – there were awards and accolades – but most of all there were those people from the audience who came backstage with tear-stained faces to thank me for telling their story. The more we performed The Consul the more I realized it was, above all, a work of enormous compassion and depth.

It is impossible for me to express what a rich experience The Consul has been for me through the years, or to thank Gian-Carlo enough for the privilege of creating his first Magda.

To this day I meet people who saw it and tell me how much The Consul moved them. That generation is passing and I am deeply grateful to VAI for releasing this video so that future generations can experience this enduring work.

-Patricia Neway, 2004

The Mystery of Patricia Neway, An Update

Back on July 7, I discussed the whereabouts of Tony-winner Patricia Neway. Conflicting circumstantial information led me to post, calling on our musical and opera sleuths to get to the bottom of the situation. If you recall, information on several websites indicated that her name was actually Frances Breeze, and she retired from performing to teach voice in a university in Virginia, ultimately passing away in 2003.

Well, this comment posted today informed me:

“[Famed American contralto] Florence Kopleff reported to me that she spoke by telephone with Patricia Neway on 8/5/09. Miss Neway is living at home in Vermont. She is disabled by arthritis to the extent that she requires full-time assistance, but is otherwise well and alert.”

So there you have it.

The Mystery of Patricia Neway

Calling all sleuths! We’ve got ourselves a musical theatre mystery here.

I was talking to my friend Chris, who is working at Glimmerglass Opera this summer, about The Consul by Gian-Carlo Menotti (who was born on this day in 1911, I might add). Glimmerglass, located in Cooperstown, NY, is presenting the opera this summer in repertory with more traditional fare such as La Traviata, La Cenerentola and Dido and Aeneas.

The Consul fascinates me because it one of the few operas that was composed specifically for Broadway. The original production opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on March 15, 1950 running for 269 performances (don’t let the tally fool you, the show was actually a financial success) before it became a staple of opera companies worldwide. The opera showcased young soprano Patricia Neway in the leading role of the oppressed everywoman Magda Sorel and established her as a force to be reckoned with in the opera and theatre world. Neway would also recreate her role in the original London and Paris productions and in a European tour.

Neway was born in Brooklyn, NY on September 20, 1919. She studied voice at the Mannes College of Music (now part of the New School) and with private coaches, making her debut on Broadway in 1942 in the chorus of Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne. Neway’s voice, strong acting ability and striking figure onstage (she stood six feet tall) combined to create a popular presence in the world of opera and musical theatre.

Here is what I had to say about the The Consul on July 21, 2008:

‘The three-act opera follows the tragic story (it’s an opera about the horrors of dictatorship, this cannot possibly end well) of Magda Sorel, a young wife and mother in a deliberately unnamed totalitarian nation whose husband is a rebel wanted by the secret police. After he is wounded, her husband makes a run to the border to hide while Magda is left to make arrangements to transport the family out of the country safely. Magda’s troubles multiply as her mother-in-law and child become seriously ill and she finds herself constantly followed and interrogated by the secret police. Much to her growing frustration finds that the bureaucracy at the consulate is unstoppable, leaving herself and many others stranded vis-a-vis the monikers of red tape and paperwork. When her child dies, she makes another imploring visit to the consulate and when rejected once again by the callous secretary, her emotions and anger explode in this second show-stopping aria “To This We’ve Come,” a release of a leitmotif heard in the recitative between Magda and her husband early in the first act, with one of the few moments of musical assonance experienced in the score.’

The opera won the Pulitzer Prize for Music and the NY Drama Critics Award as Best Musical. Decca recorded an original cast album of musical highlights that has yet to be released on CD. Menotti and Neway would work again in the short-lived Maria Golovin in 1958 at the Broadway Theatre. The following year, Neway would score great success on Broadway opposite Mary Martin as the original Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music, winning the 1960 Tony for Best Featured Actress. (I’ve always been amused that the actress playing Maria was six years older than the actress portraying the Reverend Mother).

That same year, she starred in a revival of The Consul at the City Center. Her performance was taped for an early attempt at pay-per-view television. That taping, considered lost, was discovered in a vault somewhere and released on DVD by VAI and it is an extraordinary document featuring a performance of a lifetime.

The Sound of Music marked Neway’s last appearance on Broadway, but she continued her association with Rodgers and Hammerstein by appearing in the 1964 Lincoln Center revival of The King and I as Lady Thiang as well as a 1966 City Center revival and unrelated 1967 TV production of Carousel as Nettie. Neway sang in numerous productions at the NYCO, including the debut of Six Characters in Search of an Author, sharing the stage with the late, great Beverly Sills.

While talking about the excitement and going on up at Glimmerglass, Chris sent me a youtube link of Patricia’s performance of “To This We’ve Come” this evening. In the title it says “Patricia Neway (aka Frances Breeze) in The Consul.” At first I didn’t know what to make of it, until I decided to google the two names together. What came up in the search was a link to the youtube clip I had just seen as well as one for her Biography page on IMDb. There was this blurb:

“After The Sound of Music, Patricia Neway settled down in Hampton, Virginia and taught voice under her married name “Frances Breeze” until The College of William and Mary recruited her as the head of their singing department. Her last performance was as the mother in Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in 1974, although she taught voice and directed choir until her death in 2003.”

I’m forced to take this information with some reticence. There is no date of death listed on her IMDb, IBDb or Wikipedia pages. In searching through various databases and periodicals I’ve not been able to locate any sort of obituary for her under either name. I know she was married to opera singer and voice teacher Morris Gesell around the time of The Consul, but the NY Times lists nothing in its archives about her past 1966. If Neway has passed away six years ago, it does seem strange that not one single news source picked up on it.

As for Frances Breeze of William and Mary College, it appears she was a highly respected voice teacher, beloved by her students and dedicated to teaching the art of vocal technique as well as instilling her students confidence and determination. She retired from the school for health reasons in 1983, and moved to St. Croix. Breeze returned to the Virginia peninsula where she died in 2003. In her memory, the Alumni Association established an endowment in her memory providing scholarships to vocal students.

However I have been unable to make a connection between the two names aside from the information I’ve gathered on Youtube and IMDb. Plus, Patricia Neway’s signature is present on the 2009 Broadway Bear of the Mother Abbess (decked out in the striking black and red formal habit Lucinda Ballard designed for the original production). I’m not sure that they would keep a bear for six whole years before they placed it on auction, but I am not familiar with how this branch of BC/EFA functions.

The facts are few and far between and I feel there is more to the story than what I’ve found. I’m going to do further research to find concrete evidence to determine whether or not Frances Breeze and Patricia Neway are one and the same. Unless perhaps any of my regular readers might be able to help?

So until I get to the bottom of this enigma, here is the aforementioned clip of Patricia Neway singing “To This We’ve Come”

"Dixit Dominus/Climb Ev’ry Mountain"

Okay, so everyone is well-versed in the blockbuster film adaptation that we’ve all grown up with. Julie Andrews twirling on a hillside is one of the most visible images of the American musical in our popular culture. However, the popular success of the original 1959 stage version cannot be forgotten in the mix. Directed by Vincent Donehue, the show was a star vehicle for seemingly ageless Mary Martin, who at 46 would be playing the young postulant Maria (and would famously beat out Ethel Merman for the Tony award).

The show proved more significant as Oscar Hammerstein’s swan-song to musical, as he would succumb to stomach cancer less than a year into the show’s run (and whose health impacted the out of town creative experience). The Sound of Music opened on November 16, 1959 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in NY to mixed notices. Many critics took the show to task for being too saccharine and steeped in operetta rather than following in the innovative footsteps that had defined the early era of Rodgers & Hammerstein through the 1940s and early 50s.

However, the appeal of the show was undeniable. Audiences flocked to see the musical adaptation of the von Trapp Family Singers, keeping the show open in NY for 1,443 performance. The London production, which opened in 1961 without any stars, would go on to become the longest running musical in the West End. Florence Henderson went out on the national tour. However, whatever success the musical had onstage was instantly eclipsed by the unparalleled success of the 20th Century Fox film, which would become the highest grossing film of all time, and win the Oscar for Best Picture of 1965.

In composing a musical steeped in Roman Catholicism, Rodgers found himself researching liturgical music at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY. My elementary school music teacher was a delightful nun who once told me in the seventh grade that she was one of those who sang for Rodgers. Of course that pushed her up a few stock points in my book. The chant settings he created are so impressive and authentic sounding, you’d have thought they were part of the original Gregorian hymnal. Ed Sullivan had the actresses playing the nuns appear on his 1959 Christmas special to sing a medley of their chorales, followed by a stirring rendition of the show’s first act-ending aria “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” by Patricia Neway. Take note of the critical analysis of the show by the reliably awkward Sullivan in his intro. Enjoy!