A native of southern California, lyric soprano Patrice Michaels entered college believing that she wanted to become a flutist. Before she had graduated from Pomona College with a degree in theatre, however, she had determined that she wanted to train in composition. By the time she entered the University of Minnesota, she had already sampled the world of singing, both as a coach assisting in the preparation of operas and musicals and as a singer herself. At Minnesota, she sang a good deal, performing in such operatic staples as Carmen and Lehár's Merry Widow. In addition, she studied composition, most notably with Dominick Argento, under whose tutelage she wrote an opera. Not coincidentally, one of her critically acclaimed Cedille recordings features Argento's music.
When engaged in a post-graduate residency at the Banff Center for the Arts in Alberta, Canada, she found her voice increasingly able to manage the rapid passagework found in music of the Baroque period. Among other opportunities that opened to her there was the chance to tour the western provinces in a second opera of her composing.
A successful audition for Lee Schaenen of the Lyric Opera of Chicago's Center for American Artists led to the expectation that she would have a position there, but a student already in the program chose to stay another year and there was thus no slot. Michaels decided to stay in Chicago and work with Schaenen's wife, Nell, a well-known language coach.
Joining the chorus of Chicago's Music of the Baroque proved a stroke of good fortune. Under the supervision of Music Director Tom Wickman, she was given increasingly important responsibilities. She credits Wickman with putting the final gloss on her vocal technique, saying in print, "I didn't really know how to sing until I met Tom."
Opportunities came quickly as word of a quality singer with a shimmering, firmly focused, and agile voice spread first about Chicago and soon thereafter about the country. In 1991, she included in a recital a song cycle by Argento, his Six Elizabethan Songs. In the audience was James Ginsburg, the owner of Cedille Records. Ginsburg, son of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and trained as an attorney, had established his label two years before to pursue the recording of interesting repertory with artists of unassailable quality.
That first hearing of Michaels assured him that she was an artist with whom he wanted to work on a long-term basis. The musical relationship yielded rich results as nearly a CD per year emerged to critical acclaim in the national press. Among the recordings were several solo discs, some ensemble ventures, and an opera, namely Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium in which Michaels sings the role of Monica.
Michaels, no doubt prompted by her own work as a composer, has been conscientious in searching out unusual repertory for her song recitals. An example of her unfailing good judgment can be heard in her recorded collaboration with fortepianist David Schrader, entitled Songs of the Classical Age.