For many years a regular on the roster of the Metropolitan Opera, mezzo-soprano Mona Paulee also enjoyed fame in musical theater. Her single role on Broadway was that of Marie in The Most Happy Fella, the possessive sister who periodically punctures her brother’s love balloon by reminding him of his advanced years and unattractiveness.
Born in Edmonton, Canada, in 1912, Paulee moved to the United States when young and studied music first in Portland, Oregon. Her early work included engagements in nightclubs and movie theaters. By the age of twenty-four she was on stage at the San Francisco Opera, singing a small part in La Juive with a cast that included matinee idol Ezio Pinza, who would later achieve crossover fame in South Pacific. In 1939 she played Siegrune in a performance of Die Walküre with a cast starring the legendary Wagnerians Lauritz Melchior and Kirsten Flagstad.
By 1941 she was on the Met roster, where she would stay for many years, working with such eminent conductors as Thomas Beecham, Erich Leinsdorf, and Bruno Walter. Among the operas in which she performed were L’elisir d’amore (playing Giannetta in her Met debut), Das Rheingold, Götterdämmerung, The Magic Flute, La Traviata, Cavalleria rusticana (as Lola), Mignon, and Salome. Most of her roles were minor, though she occasionally made her way to center stage.
In 1950 and 1951 she toured Central America, and in 1952 she traveled to Europe, performing in Vienna, England, Scandinavia, and Holland. Concert appearances in the 1940s and ’50s included performances in Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, Verdi’s Requiem, and a program of Venetian Baroque music conducted by Paul Hindemith. In addition to her “serious” work, Paulee sang lighter fare, and she made recordings in Vienna of selections by Gershwin, Friml, and Romberg, accompanied by Heinz Sandauer and his orchestra.
Paulee’s one stint on Broadway was as Marie in the original cast of The Most Happy Fella (1956), Loesser’s musical about Tony, an older vineyard owner in Napa Valley, and his infatuation with the young waitress Rosabella, whom he marries. Although Paulee’s character Marie (Tony’s sister) has no solo numbers, she is featured in several important duets. Threatened by the young Rosabella, Marie tells Tony with brutal frankness, “You ain’t young no more, and you ain’t good-lookin’, and you ain’t smart” and reveals her dependence on Tony (and her jealousy of Rosabella) when she sings, “Nobody’s ever gonna love you like I love you.” The ambitious musical – which starred another Met singer, Robert Weede, as the smitten leading man – earned six Tony® nominations, and the original Broadway cast album was lavishly packaged and issued by Columbia, virtually complete, on three long-playing discs.
Though Paulee’s career on Broadway was brief, she appeared in musical theater again as Lady Thiang in The King and I in a 1959 Indianapolis production.
In later years, Paulee taught at California State University, Los Angeles, retiring in 1987.
She died in 1995.
Photo courtesy of Photofest