January 29, 2012

Particia Neway: To this we've come

Strange to say, but the first time I heard Gian Carlo Menotti's opera The Consul, I was in high school, babysitting the neighbors two kids. They went to bed early and I amused myself by channel surfing, stumbling on Menotti's opera just as it started on PBS's Great Performances. I was shocked by the story, musical language and the main aria "To this we've come." Its hopeful consonance in the middle of the dissonant bleak work made a huge impact on my 17 year old brain. Menotti's opera was the first I ever saw from beginning to end if you don't count my first performance in opera being Carmen. I was in third grade and sang in the children's chorus, but I digress!

The soprano who created the role of Magda Sorel in The Consul was Particia Neway, who recently died at the age of 92 (see Theatre Aficionado at Large), having sung 269 performances of Menotti's opera. She sang at a time when 'crossover' meant something different that it does now, my point being that Neway sang on Broadway in major roles with operatic technique. She won a Tony as the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music. Look closely and you will find Tatiana Troyanos singing in the chorus.  

The choral singing is full-bodied and womanly, with none of the hooty or straightened approach you find today. All too often, choral directors try to find 'blend' by limiting rather than expanding. This may have everything to do with the fact that many conductors today aren't singers. At any rate, the choral approach of Neway's time on Broadway was classically driven, a very different approach than can be heard today.

Here is Neway accepting her Tony Award in 1960.

You can find Neway in Menotti's The Consul on DVD here. What a beautifully burnished voice. She sang a great deal at The New York City Opera, back when its home was The City Center of Music and Drama on 55th Street.

Postscript 2/1/12: The New York Times finally published Newway's obitiuary which you can find here.

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