Friday, January 23, 2009
Slumming on Park Avenue
The leap from opera to pop stardom is, perhaps, even trickier than the reverse; while Sarah Vaughan's selections from Porgy & Bess or Aretha Franklin's "Nessun Dorma" from Turandot might never have won plaudits from an audience at La Scala, they at least were praised for their efforts, and judged on their own merits as non-classical singers. When opera divas attempt to sing pop or jazz, however, the results usually range from the unintentionally amusing to the horrific: Leontyne Price, for instance, using the full breadth of her magnificent voice to tackle Rodgers and Hart is something akin to swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. The two opera stars who successfully -- artistically and commercially -- made the transition are Eileen Farrell and Patrice Munsel; and the latter had the benefit of being a va-va-va-voom beauty who could perform a hot-cha Vegas act (while poor, zaftig Eileen didn't even get her photo on the covers of her two jazz albums).
Glamorously gowned by Scaasi, "Princess Pat" wowed audiences in Vegas and on the nightclub circuit; traded banter with the likes of Dean Martin and Steve Allen on their variety shows; and even had her own program, The Patrice Munsel Show (natch), during the 1956-57 season. She also starred in one notorious flop motion picture, Melba (1953), based on the life of temperamental opera diva Nellie Melba; the film, which appears to have been lost, apparently turned the temperamental Melba into Little Bo Peep and Anne of Green Gables rolled into one; needless to say, we're dying to see it.
Visit La Munsel's entertaining personal website here, featuring tons of glamorous, hair-hopping photos!