Patrice Munsel, the lyric coloratura known to her fans as "Princess Pat," became the youngest leading singer in Metropolitan Opera history when she debuted as Philine opposite Risë Stevens' Mignon on December 4, 1943. Earlier that year, she had won the Met Auditions of the Air, a radio show devised in 1937 by then-general manager Edward Johnson. Previous winners included Stevens, Leonard Warren, Robert Merrill, and Eleanor Steber, but none asRead more young as Munsel, and certianly none trained in ballet, tap-dancing (even "rhythmic whistling"!), as well as singing. Before the season ended in April, 1944, Munsel had also sung Olympia in Hoffmann, Gilda in Rigoletto, and a Flower Maiden in Parsifal. The next season she added Lucia di Lammermoor, Rosina in The Barber of Seville (then performed worldwide in an upward transposition for coloratura) and the Queen of Shemakhan in Le Coq d'or. Gounod's Juliette and Norina in Don Pasquale (but only one performance) followed in 1945 - 1946. She sang a single Lakmé in January 1947 (Lily Pons' career-long showcase, performed 35 times at the Met starting in 1932 and 15 times on tour). In 1949 - 1950, Johnson's last season as general manager, Munsel sang Adina in L'elisir d'amore and Zerlina in Don Giovanni.
By then, however, the wear and tear of her premature debut in the capacious old Met -- 84 performances in 12 roles, plus 44 more on tour -- had taken a serious toll. Nor had she confined herself to opera; Munsel was singing troop concerts even before the Met, later on solo recitals, orchestral concerts, radio appearances, and starting in 1950, television. Like Jean Harlow and Judy Garland, Munsel had a stage mother who started her on singing lessons at 12. A conductor in Pittsburgh (before Reiner) is said to have recommended NYC vocal training, but back home Patrice was still captain of the girls' football team and the high-school lead in Pirates of Penzance. At 16, Eunice Munsel took her daughter to NYC for vocal, acting, language, and operatic lessons, which led to the Met audition triumph. It was not until Rosina in 1944, however, that she beguiled NYC critics, who had complained her voice was unready for earlier roles.
When Rudolf Bing succeeded Johnson, he lightened her repertoire, starting with Adele in the 1950 Fledermaus in English, staged by Garson Kanin. While continuing to sing Zerlina under Reiner's direction, she added Despina in Così fan tutte and Musetta in December 1951, the former one of her most popular roles. In 1956 Bing cast her as Offenbach's La perichole in a new Cyril Ritchard production, which she sang 21 times in the house and on tour (and on RCA's recording). In 1958, her last year at the Met, Munsel added a single Mimì but by this time had starred in Melba, an 1953 MGM biopic, and made the transition to television. Max Liebman's TV productions of The Great Waltz and Naughty Marietta enjoyed theater screenings as well. A regular on The Firestone Hour in the 1950s, Patrice Munsel had her own TV show for a season, 1957 - 1958, produced by Larry Gelbart.
Within weeks after the Broadway opening of The King and I, Munsel recorded Anna's music with Merrill, Dinah Shore, and Tony Martin. With Stevens and Merrill she also recorded Showboat in 1956, another RCA bestseller. Beginning in the 1960s she starred at musical theaters nationwide in repertory as varied as Auntie Mame, Kiss Me Kate, A Little Night Music, and Carousel, continuing for more than 20 years. Read less
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