Jeritza, Maria (1887–1982)
Jeritza, Maria (1887–1982)
Czech soprano and star of the Metropolitan Opera from 1921 to 1932. Born Marie Jedlitzka or Jedlitska on October 6, 1887, in Brünn, Moravia; died on July 10, 1982, in Orange, New Jersey; studied at the Brünn Musikschule and with Auspitzer; married Baron Leopold von Popper de Podharagn (divorced 1935); married Winfield Sheehan (a motion picture executive), in 1935 (died 1945).
Debuted at Olmütz as Elsa in Lohengrin (1910); debuted at the Vienna Volksoper as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser (1912); debuted at the Hofoper (1913); created the Empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten in Vienna (1919); debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in the American premier of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's opera The Dead City (November 19, 1921); debuted at Covent Garden (1925); received the Austrian Order of Knighthood, first class—one of the highest awards ever bestowed on a civilian by the Austrian government (1935).
From 1921 until 1932, Maria Jeritza sang 290 performances in 20 roles at the Metropolitan Opera. She was the Met's most beautiful and glamorous star since Geraldine Farrar , who was also greatly beloved by the opera-going public. Jeritza belonged to a category of performers known as "singing actresses" because her performances were more flamboyant than refined. Jeritza arrived in New York as an established favorite
in Vienna where she sang for two decades. In 1913, she was engaged by the Vienna Hofoper, where she became famous for her interpretations of roles in the operas of Richard Wagner and Giacomo Puccini. The latter considered her the greatest of Toscas. She was the first Ariadne in both versions of Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos in Stuttgart in 1912 and in Vienna in 1916. She also created Marietta in the first Vienna performance of Korngold's Die tote Stadt (The Dead City). Audiences particularly loved Jeritza's interpretations of Tosca, Minnie, and Turandot.
When she opened at the Met in The Dead City, she took America by storm. "Probably not since Calvé has such a vital, happily equipped and quickening personality leaped from European shores to the center of the Metropolitan stage," wrote one critic. "Beauty, stature, magnetism, grace, dramatic liveliness, artistic feeling—she has all these to add to a big radiantly fresh voice." A few days later, she undertook Tosca and was "an incarnation of a woman far greater than the one conceived by the creators of the opera," wrote Henry Krehbiel. She remained with the Metropolitan, appearing in many American premieres including those of Leos Janácek's Jenufa, Puccini's Turandot, Korngold's Violanta, and Richard Strauss' Ægyptische Helena. She also appeared as guest artist with other opera companies and gave many concert recitals. Some of her other roles were those of Carmen, Santuzza, Thaïs, and Sieglinde.
Recordings expose Jeritza's faults and genius as a singer. Although taste and technique are sometimes questionable in these recordings, there are also moments of genuine vocal achievement, spotlighting her lustrous, ample voice. After World War II, Maria Jeritza made isolated appearances in Vienna and New York, but had effectively retired after her second marriage in 1935.
In her book, Coming into the End Zone,Doris Grumbach fondly remembers watching an aging Jeritza, in her customary white fur hat, helped to the front row for a performance of Der Rosenkavalier. "She wore dark sunglasses, her body was small and soft. She seemed ageless and frail.… She bowed her head from side to side in gentle acknowledgment of the recognition she seemed grateful for." During the performance, when Grumbach would glance her way, Jeritza appeared to be "absorbed in listening." At intermission, Grumbach commented to the man sitting next to her about how wonderful she looked. "'She always does,' he said. 'That floppy hat, that wonderful face. You'd never know she was blind.'"
Ewen, David. Living Musicians. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1940.
Grumbach, Doris. Coming into the End Zone. NY: Norton, 1991, pg 64.
Warrack, John, and Ewan West. Oxford Dictionary of Opera. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Jeritza, Maria. Sunlight and Song (autobiography), 1924.
John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia