Tuesday, July 7, 2009

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"

21 comments:

SarahB said...

I DREAM of a revival at the Vivian Beaumont - Patricia Racette is the ideal, but I think Victoria Clark could handle it.

Ted said...

Well I did some digging and Patricia Neway was still living in NYC as late as 1990. I think someone has confused the two women. That Frances P. Breeze was born on September 25, 1920 and the 1920 census gives Neway's age as 3 months in January 1920, so she had to be born in 1919 as most sources claim. I suspect she's probably still alive somewhere in NYC. There's no indication she ever married.

Kevin Daly said...

Sarah - I would love to see it live with either Racette or Clark. But would give the piece the impassioned performance it deserves. Going to see if Glimmerglass is in the cards this summer.

Ted - Thanks so much. I felt it was rather odd facts that don't add up. Census records are incredibly fascinating. I am curious how the two became synonymous for this person.

Will the real Patricia Neway please stand up? (Especially if she's still with us, I'd like to toast her 90th birthday this September).

Joseph Gomez said...

this is fascinating.

Kevin Daly said...

There is a Patricia Neway currently living in NY. I can't imagine that there are many people with that name floating around.

It will be intriguing to figure out where the Neway-Breeze connection was made...

Henryk Egermann said...

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.

nosferaustin said...

Patricia Neway is very much alive and living, as mentioned before, in VT. Her husband, the late John Francis Byrne, died late last year. He was my great-uncle. I know that she is being cared for full-time, as mentioned before and that other than physical ailments, she is alert and very well.

Pat leads a very private life now and I haven't seen her in quiet some time but my father lives nearby and sees her quite regularly.

Duke Rightious said...

I knew her well... Take a look at my video "Rightious Revealed" and you'll see pics of her in her last stage production of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" in which I played "Amahl". Frances Breeze and Patricia Neway were indeed the same person. I'm the one who posted her performances on YouTube.

Henry said...

Many of Frances Breeze's former voice students are now commenting on your post on Facebook. It was a "common knowledge" rumor at William and Mary that she was Patricia Neway; while none of the commentators ever heard her claim this outright, she'd often talk of opening shows on Broadway. The physical and vocal resemblence between Ms. Breeze and Ms. Neway is quite stunning (granted, this is filtered through a 25-year memory). That being said, it's interesting that W&M has never identified her as Patricia Neway, even though you know a college would jump on that opportunity in an instant. And all the conflicting information about dates of birth (and Ms. Breeze's death in 2003) seem to lead us to the conclusion that they weren't the same.

For DukeRightious, can you confirm Ms. Breeze died in 2003? And, if they are the same person, why the coyness about her identity?

None of this changes our feelings for Ms. Breeze, who was beloved by her students. We're still chatting and I'll send any further information if it pops up. After all these years, we're still curious too!

Duke Rightious said...

Here are two articles from The Daily Press/Times Herald of Hampton/Newport News, VA that I hope will help some people to see the bridge here...

When I was growing up (we had an instant kinship since I met her at age eleven) everyone "in the know" knew exactly who Frances Breeze was - she actually moved down here before she was finished with "The Sound of Music" on Broadway; they would fly her up in a hotel for five days and then she would fly back to Hampton for her two days off.

The pressure of being a singer as she aged was replaced with wanting to be recognized as a teacher. I remember when "the guys from William and Mary" came calling. I was heartbroken, because I would stay at her house on the weekends, and she was moving into a small apartment. As with most singers, she wanted to go out on top, which she did if you look at the articles I posted. Although I was not there when they met with her, Frances told me that William and Mary was going to give her an honorary doctorate and list only her contributions and abilities as a voice teacher for her hire and not from her performance past...

Hope this helps anyone who wants to know... I have a great many "Pat Neway" stories to tell...

PS Frances was adopted. Her first date of birth is her birth date and the second is her day of adoption. She was "discovered" as a teenager on the Author Godfrey talent hour and was awarded voice lessons as the winner of that show...

http://s764.photobucket.com/albums/xx286/PatriciaNeway/?action=view&current=FrancesReview.jpg

and

http://s764.photobucket.com/albums/xx286/PatriciaNeway/?action=view&current=AmahlAd111.jpg

Duke Rightious said...

P.S.:

Here are some photos from her last performance: Patricia Neway aka Frances Breeze as the mom and Duke Rightious as Amahl. Frances also sang opera under the stage names of Frances Palmer and Francesca Palmeretti. I have the recording as well and might get the whole thing uploaded to YouTube - we'll see...

http://i764.photobucket.com/albums/xx286/PatriciaNeway/AmahlTouchedUp1.jpg

http://i764.photobucket.com/albums/xx286/PatriciaNeway/AmahlTouchedUp2.jpg

http://i764.photobucket.com/albums/xx286/PatriciaNeway/AmahlTouchedUp3.jpg

Oslovian said...

I was studying voice at W&M at the very end of Frances' teaching career, and inherited much of her studio music (well, BOUGHT much of it, actually) and even visited St. Croix - and Frances - with my family over Xmas 1.5 years after she retired. Yes, this rumor was flying around when I was there, and it was certainly interesting, but I never put too much credence in it.

Anyway, a much quieter part of the rumor, as I recall it, was that Patricia Neway and Frances had been roommates in NYC - Patricia Neway did indeed exist, and was not the same person as Frances Breeze - but, here's the tricky part - that it was actually Frances Breeze who was on-stage as Magda Sorel, and Mother Abess, etc. during those B'way years. Needless to say, I have absolutely no idea why this would be - no possible explanation, but that was the rumor. Frances was completely moot on the point - completely - which explains why W&M never honored her in any way as "Patricia Neway." In any event, I missed an incredible opportunity to delve into this mystery while I was still in college, because the summer before my senior year I was assistant stage manager for Menotti's "Juana La Loca" at the Spoleto Festival in Charleson SC, directed by Menotti himself. It never ocurred to me to ask him directly about it - and maybe I wouldn't have gotten a direct answer anyway. A couple year later he popped in to "stage direct" (in one afternoon) a performance of Amahl at the Kennedy Center that I was in the chorus of - he didn't recognize me from Juana, and I'd have been surprised if he had. And of course I didn't ask him. Anyway - 2 opportunities missed.

The only thing that ever made me think there might be some truth to this bizarre story - while I was still at W&M - was a recording of Patricia Neway singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" from - is it Carousel? I had spent quite a lot of time in Frances Breeze's studio during those two years, and when I heard Patricia approach the high note at the end of that song in a very particular way, it strongly reminded me of Frances. Sounded just like her.

But nothing had the effect on me that this video had. That's Frances alright - don't have to pick apart tiny moments of some old recording. That's Frances's head and face and body as Magda Sorel. It's freaky. After all these years....there it is.

What, indeed, can be the real story behind all this?????? Patricia Neway must know. (Are the two women twins or something? Because if that woman playing Magda was NOT Frances, it was her twin sister.)

[I'm going to forward this thread to last year's Glimmerglass concert-mistress, who is also a chum]

sblakes said...

Wow! I was one of France Breeze's first students. I had had enough training previous to W&M that caused me to seek her out in Hampton (the sole voice teacher at that time was teaching a technique that went against everything that I had learned up to that point.) I went to her home and she told me that she was starting at W&M the next semester, and assured me that I would study with her.

She absolutely stated that she was Patricia Neway, and had other names in the music profession, citing the lack of "crossover" that artists were allowed during her career. She told me that she knew Menotti well, and that he had had a very small apartment in the same walkup as she.

I had no idea such a mystery existed! However, I can say that the available video sure looks like the Frances I knew.

Kevin Daly said...

When I attended the 50th anniversary celebration for The Sound of Music last week, I made it a point to ask original cast members if any of them knew of Patricia Neway's whereabouts. Speaking directly with actresses who were part of the nun's chorus, they informed me that they continue to maintain contact with her and corroborate the posters here that she is living in Vermont, where she and her husband retired after performing.

edibleegg said...

Frances taught me voice in the mid - 1970's (until about 1977); her students passed around the rumor that she was Patricia Neway, but she'd never confirm or deny it. I can't imagine she'd take that attitude unless she was, but there was never any proof.

Lisa said...

I also studied with Frances Breeze between 1981 - 1983. The video and voice were unquestionably those of the Frances I knew at W&M. I am not an expert; I have no other evidence than eyes and ears, but for me there is no doubt that she was Patricia Neway.

Brad said...

I had a lovely christmas dinner with Patricia Neway last night in Vermont, where she has lived since the mid seventies. She and Francis breeze are not one and the same and pat IS the singer who created the roles in the consul and sound of music. Also, her birthday is September 30, not 20. Alive and reasonay well in Vermont. Brad Learmonth

Mickey One said...

I'm glad to hear my late mother's cousin, Pat Neway, is still alive and well in Vermont. Thank you Brad Learmonth for your post. Despite the speculations in some of the other posts, Pat Neway is not, nor was she ever, the same person as Frances Breeze, and Pat is indeed the one who starred in the Consul and the Sound of Music. I know this to be true because my parents took me to see her in the Sound of Music on Broadway and we went out to dinner afterwards. Again, a sincere thank you to Brad.

Amy Peberdy said...

Pat wanted to spend the rest of her life in her lovely home by the river, which she did. On January 24, 2012, she died peacefully in her sleep, most likely with her purrbox cat "Lady" close at hand. I remain ever grateful that she was my friend. Amy Peberdy

anton10or@aol.com said...

I realize this is a year late and probably no one is still reading this thread, but just in case...I also studied with Francis Breeze in the 70's before she took the position with William and Mary. We became more that just pupil/teacher and more like collaborators. She performed Amahl in Hampton. I took over as the costumer since the person originally hired vanished. i had 48 hours to costume the entire show, and Francis just told me "I knew you could do it, that's why i recommended you." I had never had that kind of confidence put in me, and I was able to rise above my own abilities and accomplish the impossible. That is the person, Francis Breeze. Her talent, her teaching, were legendary but it was the confidence and power with which she endowed her students, friends and colleagues that set her apart. Was she Patricia Neway. I don't believe anyone will ever be able to answer that question beyond a doubt, but does it matter? She was Francis and I loved her.

Christopher Hux said...

i studied with frances from 1976-1979 ... she had the most profound impact on my life and it is mostly due to her that i pursued a career in singing that utlitmately led me to my life here in the chorus of the zurich opera since 1998. i loved her and thrived under her teaching ... i have no idea if the rumours are true, but i am watching sound of music today and i think of her ... rest in peace frances and thanks for eveything