Many roles in new American operas by composers Ezra Laderman, Carlisle Floyd, Hugo Weisgall, Gian-Carlo Menotti and others in the 1950s and ’60s were first sung and recorded by American dramatic soprano Patricia Neway (b. Brooklyn, New York, 30 September 1919; d. Corinth, VT, 24 January 2012). An imposing figure at six feet tall, the possessor of a strong earth-mother persona and a powerful but creamy voice, she created the role of the Mother Abbess in the original Broadway production of The Sound of Music (1959), singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” She won the 1960 Tony Award® for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for that performance.
The daughter of a printer who had had a brief singing career in vaudeville, Neway grew up on Staten Island, studying piano and earning a degree in science and mathematics at Staten Island’s Notre Dame College. She then turned her energies to drama and music, studying voice privately and at Mannes College while singing with a number of choral groups in New York, including Robert Shaw’s Collegiate Chorale. In 1941, while still a student, she made her Broadway debut with the New Opera Company (a forerunner of New York City Opera) in the chorus of Jacques Offenbach’s operetta La Vie Parisienne. Her solo debut was as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte in the Chautauqua Opera’s summer season of 1946.
She sang the Female Chorus in Britten’s Rape of Lucretia at the Ziegfeld Theatre in January 1949. Operas were often produced at Broadway theatres in those days, and Menotti’s new opera The Consul, mounted at the Ethel Barrymore in 1950, brought stardom to Patricia Neway. She won the 1949–50 Donaldson Award for best actress in a musical for her definitive performance as Magda Sorel, singing the opera’s climactic scene, “To This We’ve Come.” The Consul ran for 269 performances on Broadway, traveled to London and Paris, and was recorded on the Decca label. It was revived for television ten years later, with Neway again in the starring role. Another Menotti opera, which he wrote specifically for Broadway, was Maria Golovin (1958), in which Neway sang the part of the Mother. Despite the backing of David Merrick, a tryout at the Brussels World’s Fair, and top-drawer production values, it lasted a scant 5 performances. Neway continued to work with Menotti for the rest of her career, and as late as 1970 played the Queen in the premiere of his first play without music, The Leper.
From 1951 to 1966, Neway was a regular with the New York City Opera, often summering in Chautauqua. She starred in the premiere of David Tamkin’s The Dybbuk, sang Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, and was heard in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Menotti’s The Medium and Amahl and the Night Visitors, Bucci’s Tale for a Deaf Ear, Carlisle Floyd’s Wuthering Heights, Lee Hoiby’s The Scarf, Weisgall’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, and Richard Strauss’s Salome.
Her other operatic repertoire included Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge (recorded in 1960), Floyd’s The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair, Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, Puccini’s Tosca, and Arnold Schönberg’s Erwartung. Many of these performances were delivered in Europe, at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, in Aix-en-Provence, or the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy. On television, her credits included Verdi’s Lady Macbeth (1953) and Mme. de Croissy in Dialogues of the Carmelites (1957) for NBC Opera Theatre.
Neway appeared in several non-singing dramatic roles on television in the ’60s; notable among them was La Madrecita in Tennessee Williams’s Ten Blocks on the Camino Real (1966) on National Educational Television, with Lotte Lenya, Martin Sheen, and Tom Aldredge. In 1967 she sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in the Armstrong Circle Theater television production of Carousel with Robert Goulet.
Her stage appearances during this period included the roles of Lady Thiang in Music Theater of Lincoln Center’s revival of The King and I (1964), the title character in Lee Hoiby’s Natalia Petrovna in Washington (1965), and the Governess in The Turn of the Screw for the San Francisco Opera (1966). She returned to San Francisco in 1972 as the Widow Begbick in Mahagonny.
Patricia Neway was married twice, first to her voice teacher, tenor Morris Gesell; that marriage ended in divorce. Her marriage to John Francis Byrne in 1968 essentially marked the end of her career when the couple moved to Corinth, Vermont, to live a quiet life for forty years. Byrne died in 2008; she died at home of natural causes, at 92.
– Lucy E. Cross