GENERAL ARTICLES

Opera Starlet

Meet Mona Paulee. She sang her way from an Alberta cradle to the Metropolitan opera

MARION SIMMS May 1 1942
GENERAL ARTICLES

Opera Starlet

Meet Mona Paulee. She sang her way from an Alberta cradle to the Metropolitan opera

MARION SIMMS May 1 1942

Opera Starlet

Meet Mona Paulee. She sang her way from an Alberta cradle to the Metropolitan opera

MARION SIMMS

MONA PAULEE, new mezzo-soprano starlet of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, has a pioneering heritage from both the old and new worlds. Born in a modest home on Clark Street in Edmonton, Alta.— where her French father worked as an electrician—her ancestral ties reach back to a village near old Petrograd and to Paris.

Incidentally, one of the first things Mona did when she became a singer was to change her name from Poulee to Paulee. “I was tired of being called a ‘chicken V ” she said, with a smile that lit up her green eyes.

Her father, Joseph Poulee, had fallen in love, in Paris, with a young Russian girl named Ethel Romanski. Their dream was to start their marriage in the new country. Joseph was twenty when he came to New York, jubilantly foünd a job, and sent for his seventeen-year-old fiancée. They were married on Ellis Island, and like to think that a witness to the ceremony was a tall and beautiful lady who graces New York Harbor.

From Russia and France, other members of the family arrived from time to time until there was quite a family clan. Canada’s offer of a sixty-acre tract of timberland to each new settler in Alberta fired the imagination of the newcomers. They became homesteaders about thirty miles from Edmonton.

“The assortment of Russian and French relatives brought the total up to about 460 acres,” said Mona. “Father dug a well and they all pitched in to build cottages to house the brood. In spite of the isolation up in the tall timber, they were never lonely. They supplied their own entertainment. One of my mother’s sisters sang Russian songs and gypsy music superbly; she lives in New York now and still sings. And my father loved singing, too; he was once a boy alto in a choir in Paris.”

The same Russian and French recipes that were used and experimented with in the Canadian wilderness are used today by twenty-six-year-old Mona Paulee in the cheerful apartment in New York she shares with her musician-husband, Dean Holt.

After two years on the homestead, the family picked out Edmonton for their new home. Here—before she could walk—Mona was singing. “The folks tell me that when I was seven months old I kept time to music by waving my hands and feet—all at the same time.” Because her parents decided that English should be spoken in their home, Mona did not become a linguist until she grew up. Today she sings in Italian, French, German, Russian and Spanish.

She was three when her family moved to Portland, Oregon. Her father ran a film

theatre and when she was ten—as a lark—she sang the words of a popular song while it was being flashed on the screen to the accompaniment of organ music.

“I didn’t have a bit of stage fright then. It was the days of “Charmaine” and “Diane,” and I went right on singing even though audiences never did join in. I stayed hidden in the orchestra pit because I had stubby pigtails I hated and braces on my teeth.”

Piano lessons filled Mona’s thoughts at that time; she wanted to become a concert pianist. Then, in her high-school days, she unexpectedly won a Talent Night prize at a neighborhood movie house for her rather nervous rendition of “Reaching For the Moon,” and she began to think of voice training.

The years between that small victory and March 23, 1941—when she left a pneumonia sickbed to be chosen one of three fortunate winners among 700 candidates in the Metropolitan’s “Auditions of the Air”—were crowded with study and struggle. To earn money for voice and language lessons, she clerked in department stores, worked in a bakery. In San Francisco, she sang in small night clubs. She sang with dance bands, and toured the Pacific Coast with a vaudeville troupe.

From this hard school she progressed to lightoperaand oratorios,then to the renowned Pasadena Bach Society and the Federal Symphony. Next she got a job singing minor roles in the San Francisco Opera Association, and understudying the principals.

“I had more luck than training,” is her frank explanation of those years. So she took a train for Los Angeles, where her parents had settled, and began a strenuous period of serious study.

The Metropolitan debut came in November, 1941, in the substantial role of the village flirt in Donizetti’s “L’Elixir d’ Amore.” Nervous? “Terribly,” she says. “And each time since it’s just the same. I’m afraid when I open my mouth there will be only silence.”

Since then she has been heard at the Metropolitan in “The Magic Flute” and “Das Rheingold.” There have also been a number of radio programs with Metropolitan casts, besides the two appearances she had in one month with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony. In addition, she has travelled in Canada and the United States on concert tours. One week after winning the Metropolitan audition, she went to Montreal to sing at a children’s concert. Later in the year she travelled to Toronto for a concert in the Varsity Arena.

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The way this young singer feels now it must be the “tops” for her in three years; otherwise she will settle down to being just Mrs. Dean Holt, and take up flying in a big way. Her instruction has already been started by her husband, who holds a commercial pilot’s licence, and her two brothers-in-law, Lowell and Everett Thompson. (Mona’s husband took a shorter name for professional purposes.) Lowell has been ferrying bombers from Montreal to Newfoundland and England. Everett, who was an instructor with the Royal Canadian Air Force until the United States entered the war, now delivers American planes to the Far East.

Mona’s alarm clock gets her up at

eight every day. She hops on a Fifth Avenue double-deck bus to her teacher’s 57th Street studio. There the coffee is perking and she has her fruit juice before practicing her scales.

Her favorite role so far is Carmen, which as yet she has sung only at concerts. The critics appear to agree that when the time comes she will— with her dark, exotic beauty—make a magnificent Carmen on the stage of the old Metropolitan Opera House.

Currently she is studying the flower-girl role in “Parsifal” for next season’s opera, but isn’t sure yet she will get it. Meanwhile, she left New York on March sixth, with the Metropolitan’s spring tour, to sing in “The Magic Flute.”