Munsel, Patrice (1925—)

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Munsel, Patrice (1925—)

American opera singer. Born Patrice Beverly Munsel on May 14, 1925, in Spokane, Washington; only child of Audley Joseph Munsel (a dentist) and Eunice Ann (Rasmussen) Munsel; graduated from Lewis and Clark High School; attended William Herman School of Singing; had private tutoring in language, piano, theory and dramatics; married Robert C. Schuler, on June 10, 1952; children: Heidi Schuler; Rhett Schuler; Scott Schuler; Nicole Schuler.

The youngest singer to debut with the Metropolitan Opera, Patrice Munsel was born in 1925 in Spokane, Washington, the only daughter of a successful dentist. Her mother Eunice Munsel , also musically inclined, had high hopes for her daughter and guided her career from the beginning. As a schoolgirl, Munsel took ballet and tap-dancing lessons, and also studied "rhythmic whistling," which she later credited with developing the breath control and phrasing she used in singing. She began studying voice seriously at the age of 12, and at 16 went with her mother to New York, where she began lessons with William Herman and Renato Bellini. She was coached in operatic roles by Giacomo Spadoni, who later brought her to the attention of Wilfred Pelletier, program conductor of the popular radio show "Metropolitan Auditions of the Air." Singing the "Mad Scene" from Lucia di Lammermoor, Munsel became the youngest winner in the history of the show and walked away with a coveted contract with the Metropolitan. Around the same time, she signed a lucrative three-year concert contract, which began with a performance in her hometown of Spokane, to benefit the Red Cross.

For her debut with the Metropolitan on December 4, 1943, Munsel sang the role of the courtesan Philine in Mignon, a role she had to learn from scratch for the performance. While the audience adored the 18-year-old (dubbed the "baby coloratura"), the critics found that she lacked the poise and vocal agility for that sophisticated role. "Miss Munsel, though a young woman of phenomenal talents is far from being prepared for present glory," wrote Virgil Thomson. Other early roles included Olympia in Tales of Hoffmann and Gilda in Rigoletto, which the critics felt were also a bit beyond her. More promising was her role in The Barber of Seville in 1944, which was cited as "proficient"; her rendition of the popular aria "Una voce, poco fa" was singled out as particularly well performed.

Munsel finally found a comfortable niche with the Metropolitan, and continued to develop a parallel concert and recording career. She also became a popular radio entertainer and played the title role in the film Melba (1953), based on the life of Australian opera star Nellie Melba . She performed with the Met until the late 1950s, after which she concentrated on musical comedy.


Morehead, Philip D., and Anne MacNeil. The New International Dictionary of Music.

Rothe, Anna, ed. Current Biography 1945. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1945.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts