Cher Public

Patrice Munsel 1925-2016

Patrice MunselThe soprano, famed for her status as youngest performer to make a debut at the Met as well as for her flamboyant style and personality, died Thursday after suffering a stroke. She was 91. 

  • stignanispawn

    Saw her in The Merry Widow on tour in Boston in the 1960’s and in A Little Night Music in summer stock about a decade later. My sense was that she loved performing. Met her twenty years ago at a party shortly after we moved from Boston to NYC; she was wearing a hot pink wig because she was feeling “pink” that evening….quite a character

  • Patrick Mack

    I saw her in the Fille as the Duchess in Baltimore and she was in her early 70’s. She sang Despina’s aria from Cosi as a divertisement and was absolutely glorious. She looked like a million bucks too. So grateful I got to see her at least once.

  • Gualtier M

    A few years ago I went to the memorial for Licia Albanese. I was wondering who was still alive who sang at the Metropolitan Opera during the Edward Johnson era. Very few were left but Patrice was one of them. Others we discussed as possibilities (if they haven’t passed since then) were Marilyn Cotlow who later became the teacher of Alessandra Marc and Jennifer Wilson. Cotlow is currently 92 years old. I can’t think of any others though Rise Stevens almost made it to 100. Regina Resnik also recently left us and she debuted under Johnson.

    Almost everyone else is gone.

    Patrice was one of a kind and I know that La Cieca loved her.

  • Here is my Patrice Munsel story, or rather my favorite Patrice Munsel story, which was related to me by the ineffable Frank Gratale, the most perfect opera queen imaginable. (As you read the story you must imagine it exclaimed in Gratale’s hyperbolic Noo Yawk accent.)

    This story takes place, I would guess, in the winter of 1948, when Munsel was about 22. The Met was performing Lucia and it was a very special night indeed because the leading lady was none other than Lily Pons, who — and this is an important point — was pushing 50.

    Mlle. Pons canceled that night on short notice, and Miss Munsel gallantly stepped in. Now, in those days the Met allowed late seating, and, this being (so far as anyone knew) a Pons night, nobody bothered to show up in time for the start of the opera, with just that boring baritone aria to sit through, and of course everyone planned to make their egress at the end of the Mad Scene.

    Gratale, who was a youngish whippersnapper at the time, sneaked into Orchestra before the performance began (he knew one of the ushers) and so he, along with only a few others, heard the pre-curtain announcement that Miss Munsel would be singing tonight.

    Toward the end of the baritone’s aria, a couple of elderly gorgons came tottering down the aisle, diamond bracelets clattering against their lorgnettes, and plunked themselves down directly in front of Gratale and immediately started chattering about how they were so looking forward to hearing dear Lily again.

    So Munsel comes out and sings the first act, and she is fine. The curtain falls, and after a curtain call or two, the lights come up and the gorgons begin to chatter, or, to be more accurate, continued their ongoing chatter, now raised to conversational volume.

    The first gorgon says, “Aren’t you glad we decided to come tonight? And isn’t Lily in wonderful form?”

    The second gorgon replies, “Oh, yes, but then she never disappoints. You know what I love best about Lily? Her voice is so unique. I mean, tonight after she sang only two or three notes, and I said to myself, that’s Lily!”

    The first gorgon exclaims, “And so young! She doesn’t look a day over 30! I swear, Lily gets younger every year!”

  • Krunoslav

    This must have approached the Gwyneth/Vickers/Ludwig version in sheer wrongness (though I bet she was duly sexy). Wasn’t Ottavia offered to Callas?

    L’ incoronazione di Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi

    Conductor Nicola Rescigno -- 1963(LI)

    Orchestra -- Dallas Civic Opera

    Poppea -- Patrice Munsel

    Nerone -- Ramón Vinay

    Ottavia -- Caterina Mancini

    Ottone -- Enzo Sordello

    Seneca -- Nicola Zaccaria

    Drusilla -- Lydia Marimpietri

    Arnalta -- Bianca Berini

    Valletto -- Margherita Guglielmi

    Damigella -- Norma Newton

    • grimoaldo

      Wow, mind-blowing, Patrice Munsel as Poppea!!!never would one have dreamt up such a bizarre idea. and Vinay as Nerone, omg, any pirate recordings of that? Wrong, maybe, but I bet it was fun!

      • Krunoslav

        Yes, it is on a [irate LP, at least.

        • manou

          Is this an angry LP with an eye patch and a parrot on its shoulders?

          • Camille

            That is a most interesting and colourfully provocative image. It should be used for some producer’s pirate recordings.

      • Hippolyte

        Surely the La Scala Poppea with Bumbry, di Stefano and Gencer is also in the running.

    • Camille

      La Callas play the rejected woman? Why, that would never happen in a million years.

      It IS quite interesting to see the former leading Cetra soprano La Mancini crop up in this instance, however, and one wonders what drove her to Texas, the Lone Star State? Mucho $$$$$$$$$$$$, one suspects.

  • grimoaldo

    And thank you La C for that wondrous “Je suis Titania”,I have not heard that before.

  • Milady DeWinter

    I have nothing but praise and respect for the wonderful Munsel, who really was too young to assume the Pons mantle but did so beautifully during the war years, then re-invented herself during the 1950s and was the best Adele I’ve ever heard (though I never heard her in person, only via Sirius broadcasts.) Maybe now we will get some of her early performance on Sirius archivals, like Lucia, or Juliette, or Philene. And she was a perfect crossover artist for operetta and lighter fare as well, always able to gauge just the right amount of voice needed for the piece at hand. And lovely-looking to boot. RIP Patrice.

    • Camille

      Milady —
      do you happen to recall “The Patrice Munsel Show”, from around 1957-58 or so? I seem to recall having seen it a time or two, but it quickly vanished from view.

      Can you imagine having an, I dunno, “The Anna Netrebko Show”, or “The Renée Fleming” show, even on PBS these days???? Another time.

      • Milady DeWinter

        Ah no, Camille -- I don’t remember the show, but I amgine some of the YouTube vlips might be from it. I do remember hearing her name discussed around the dinner table, and seeing her on tv. A flawless crossover artist wasn’t she? I read from other admirers online today that her summer stock Mame was something special.

        Don’t you adore Dame Sybil Thorndyke? I am COMPELLED to watch Larry O and Marilyn M in the somewhat dreary “Prince and the Showgirl” every time it comes on just to see Dame Sybil as the Dowager Queen -- sheer bliss!
        And of course Martita -- cut form the same cloth. Was there ever a better Miss Havisham?

      • mjmacmtenor

        Here is a full episode. She does a little of everything.

        • Camille

          Oh hey THANKS! The thing is, I don’t recall if I saw it then or maybe in a repeat at some later point in time, but I do recall it somewhat. I think it was probably too adult.

          No Milady, I really don’t know a Thorndyke from a Hunt, to be honest. Those old dames are the greatest, however you slice it and dice it, however!

        • Camille

          “A little of everything”!!! I’ll say, and what a trouper! Why, Tony Bennett didn’t even flat out his high notes as he so often does.

          A fun little show with an amazing display of virtuosity from Miss Munsel in several demanding situations. This lady really DID have it all.

  • Camille

    Mme. Munsel’s declarative and overwhelming “I hate Men!” is STILL ringing in my ears, all the way from the payback machine to the mid-sixties of a production of “Kiss me, Kate” which she was then either touring in, or was it done by the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera? Wow, was she a piece of dynamite on the stage.

    More than thirty years after, I chanced to see her M.C. one of those Licia Albanese Foundation tests, and, honest to God, she was still just as feisty and full of pizazz.

    I HIGHLY recommend her film from 1953, “MELBA”, a fancifully fictionalized piece of fluffy nonsense, chock-filled with many arias from diverse artists, as well as for Mme Munsel’s very able and delightful, not to mention FAR prettier, peach of a Melba.
    You will also be treated to the two redoubtables, Martita Hunt and Dame Sybil Thorndyke, the one as Madame Marchesi and the other as Victoria Regina. It is probably available via the Met Opera Shoppe, where I purchased it, or you can look to see if available online somewhere.

    All in all, QUITE a life for quite a soprano, a girl from Spokane called “Princess Pat”… May she rest in peace now.

    • Camille

      hahaha! Payback machine would be bad karma but in this instance I intended WAYback machine.

      Also, Licia Albanese did not administer TESTS, but threw FESTS.
      Fire the prrrrrrrrrroooooooooffffffreader!

    • StageLefty

      Kiss Me Kate! Yes, Munsel’s Lilli Vanessi was on fine display in the midwest in the ’70s as well -- with John Raitt as her Fred Graham! She was one of the best casting decisions John Kenley made. She was a regular on the circuit- at least every other year it seems, as they always did operettas -- and I learned about who she was through my Mom who had gone to the old Met in the late 40’s while working in NY.

      I always thought of of Patrice Munsel and Roberta Peters as being sort of interchangeable -- at least vocally -- but the latter was strictly a lady, and the former, when called for, could be a broad. Farewell, Princess Pat.

    • mjmacmtenor

      I missed seeing her in Kiss Me Kate in the 60s but I remember it being part of the season at the Dallas Summer Musicals (I saw some as a child, but missed that one). I agree about the film Melba. Munsel does a very good job with a range of standard lyric coloratura specialities. One wonders why the Met didn’t revive ore of Pons productions for her. She would have been an exchanting and funny Fille du Regiment and would have rocked the outfits in Lakme.

  • mjmacmtenor

    Here’s a real rarity -- in English no less. I remember people discussing Brian Sullvian (regarding Lohengrin) a week or so ago. Here he is with Munsel and Walter Cassel (Horace Tabor) in the final scene of Girl of the Golden West.

    • Milady DeWinter

      Now THAT”s a finale! And the horse is good too!
      Thank you, mjmac.

    • Camille

      Hey thanks AGAIN! Yes, I think it was just a day or so ago, I brought up the subject of Brian Sullivan as I’d just heard him as Lohengrin and was curious. Now, I’m glad it came about for Munsel as well, whom I’d never have thought would sing Minnie!

  • mjmacmtenor

    Great obit in Opera News. Mr favorite line -- “As Mame, she wa a natural: on tour, she was fond of nude sunbathing, driving around in her yellow Corvette convertible, and walking her pet ocelot.” That’s certainly no prim prima donna!
    You can also read for about her at her website For example, in the late 50s, she did a Las Vegas act with John Reardon. Must have been great.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    All this wonderful coloratura, calls for a real coloraturafan:

  • zinka

    Sadly, when a singer like Pat Munsel leaves us, I think back to all the stars I saw live who have left us. There are practically none left..Gives one pause…but one thing remains..the glory of their careers, and what they meant to us “kiddies.”

    I saw the Perichole premiere, and she was a delight.

    A little anecdote, where one lady at the old Met (not reading the change) said,(At a Lucia.)..”Oh,Lily still looks so young!!!!!

    I feel that I want them to know what they meant in our lives, as I feel when I listen to the music of composers like Verdi,Puccini,Wagner,Mozart,Beethoven…but such is life.

    We can only carry the happy memories of those we saw and those who made our musical lives so treasured, and I “want them to know” what they meant to music lovers…millions.

    Virginia Zeani is 91 now. Do you not think of how I will feel someday,unless she outlives me, since she has better chest!
    Lucine is also 91, and by the way, the voice STILL is as youthful as ever, with of course limited range….but the xxx jokes never ceased.

    When Rise and Tebaldi and Resnik and Guarrera departed, sad as I was, I still know that their friendship,however limited, meant so much to me. But that is the way of things, and Munsel’s passing brought it all back.

    Munsel used to appear at a Licia Gala..with strange hats…a fun lady….RIP>

  • I adore Martita Hunt. ONe of my fave musicals is The Unsinkable Molly Brown, certainly one of Debbie Reynold’s best roles. And Hunt is fabulous.

    • Milady DeWinter

      I agree, sanford -- Martita Hunt was wonderful in “Unsinkable Molly Brown.” She was peerless at playing those aristocratic grande dame types who merrily debunks class affectations and getd to the heart of matters. That film also made me a big Debbie Reynolds fan as well.