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Maria Jeritza – Big Lyric Soprano

By November 2, 2018March 17th, 2023No Comments

Jeritza was an extraordinary famous soprano for her time.  I have tried to make selections that haven’t been remastered too much.  Remastering older recordings tends to kill the higher frequencies and sometimes also the mid-ranges.  I can usually open up these types of recordings myself, but I would rather have you be able to go to youtube to find something.  Once again, this is “old style” singing.  In a nutshell, old style singing means rather than making enormous efforts to produce a certain sound, which is what today’s singers tend to do, the emphasis is on pure freedom of the voice.  With a free voice, you can do anything. And you are more likely to sing in tune.

Maria Jeritza was baptized Mimi Jedlitzková and later calling herself Marie Jedlitzka, she sang a wide repertory and participated in the premieres of several important operas. Her glamorous presence was as welcome at the Metropolitan Opera as it was in Europe and she became a leading artist there in the 1920s.  Early in her career, she spent two seasons at the Volksoper.  This led to guest engagements elsewhere and an appointment to Vienna’s Court Opera, especially at the request of Emperor Franz Joseph. Meanwhile, she had created the title role in Stuttgart of Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, thus beginning her long-term relationship with the composer who would give her yet another spectacular role, that of the Empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten in its 1919 premiere in Vienna. In both Frau and in the 1916 premiere of the revised Ariadne in Vienna, Jeritza was paired with soprano Lotte Lehmann (who was a rival of hers). Jeritza also created the role of Janácek’s Jenufa for Vienna, as she was later to do for New York.

Jeritza’s successes embraced a wide range of roles, all of them interesting, if sometimes misconceived. Her Octavian in Rosenkavalier was both stunningly handsome and handsomely sung. Her Minnie, Thaïs, Salome, Fedora, and Ägyptische Helena (which she premiered at the Met) were creatures of unending fascination. Although Jeritza left the Met during the Depression years when pay cuts were mandated, she continued to enthrall audiences in Europe throughout the 1930s.

Vissi d’arte

Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,
non feci mai male ad anima viva!
Con man furtiva
quante miserie conobbi aiutai.
Sempre con fè sincera
la mia preghiera
ai santi tabernacoli salì.
Sempre con fè sincera
diedi fiori agl’altar.
Nell’ora del dolore
perchè, perchè, Signore,
perchè me ne rimuneri così?
Diedi gioielli della Madonna al manto,
e diedi il canto agli astri, al ciel,
che ne ridean più belli.
Nell’ora del dolor
perchè, perchè, Signor,
ah, perchè me ne rimuneri così?

I lived for art

I lived for art, I lived for love,
I never harmed a living soul!
With a secret hand
I relieved as many misfortunes of which I knew.
Always with sincere faith
my prayer
rose to the holy shrines.
Always with sincere faith
I gave flowers to the altar.
In my hour of grief
why, why, o Lord,
why do you reward me thus?
I gave jewels for the Madonna’s mantle,
and I gave my song to the stars, to heaven,
so that they would shine more beautifully.
In my hour of grief
why, why, o Lord,
ah, why do you reward me thus?

Divinités du Styx

Divinités du Styx,
ministres de la mort,
je n’invoquerai point
votre pitié cruelle.

J’enlève un tendre époux
à son funeste sort,
mais je vous abandonne
une épouse fidèle.

Divinités du Styx,
ministres de la mort,
mourir pour ce qu’on aime,
est un trop doux effort,
une vertu si naturelle,
mon coeur est animé
du plus noble transport.

Je sens une force nouvelle,
je vais où mon amour m’appelle,
mon coeur est animé
du plus noble transport.

Divinités du Styx,
ministres de la mort,
je n’invoquerai point
votre pitié cruelle.

Deities of the Styx

Deities of the Styx
ministers of death
I shall not appeal
your cruel mercy

I take a tender husband
away from his deadly fate
but I surrender to you
a faithful wife

Deities of the Styx
ministers of death,
to die for whom one loves
is too easy an endeavor
so natural a virtue
my heart is driven
by the noble movement

I feel a new strength
I go where my love calls me
my heart is driven
by the noble movement

Deities of the Styx
ministers of death
I shall not appeal
your cruel mercy.

Il est doux, il est bon

Phanuel…sans cesse…je cherche ma mère
Une voix me criait: espère!
Cours à Jérusalem!
Je ne l’ai pas trouvée hélas!
Et je reste seule ici-bas!
Celui dont la parole efface toutes peines,
Le Prophète est ici! c’est vers lui que je vais!

Il est doux, il est bon, sa parole est sereine:
Il parle… tout se tait…
Plus léger sur la plaine
L’air attentif passe sans bruit…
Il parle…

Ah! quand reviendra-t-il? quand pourrai-je l’entendre?
Je souffrais… j’étais seule et mon coeur s’est calmé
En écoutant sa voix mélodieuse et tendre,
Mon coeur s’est calmé!

Prophète bien aimé, puis-je vivre sans toi!
Prophète bien aimé, puis-je vivre… vivre sans toi!
C’est là! dans ce désert où la foule étonnée
Avait suivi ses pas,

Qu’il m’accueillit un jour, enfant abandonnée!
Et qu’il m’ouvrit ses bras!
Il est doux, il est bon,
Sa parole est sereine,
Il parle… tout se tait… plus léger sur la plaine…
L’air attentif passe sans bruit…
Il parle!

Ah! quand reviendra-t-il?
Quand pourrai-je l’entendre?
Je souffrais… j’étais seule et mon coeur s’est calmé
En écoutant sa voix mélodieuse et tendre,
Mon coeur s’est calmé!

Prophète bien aimé, puis-je vivre sans toi!
Prophète bien aimé, puis-je vivre… vivre sans toi!
Ah! quand reviendra-t-il? quand pourrai-je l’entendre!
Prophète bien-aimé, puis-je vivre sans toi!

He is kind, he is good

Still without ending, O Phanuel, I look for my mother.
I heard a voice cry: “Have hope!
Run to Jerusalem!
Alas, I have not found her;
and I am remain alone in this world.
But he whose words can make vanish all sorrows,
The Prophet, is here, and it is to him that I go!

He is kind, he is good, his words are peaceful.
He speaks, all hush
The wind blows more softly over the fields,
and listens to him. He speaks —
He speaks . . .

Ah! when will he return, when might I hear him?
I suffered, I was alone,my heart grew peaceful
In listening to his melodious and tender voice,
my heart grew peaceful

Beloved Prophet, can I live without you!
Beloved Prophet, can I live, live without you!
It was there, in this desert where the astonished crowd
followed his steps,

That he welcomed me one day, an abandoned child!
And he opened his arms to me!
He is good, he is kind,
His words are peaceful,
He speaks . . all hush . . .the wind blows more softly over the fields,
and listens to him.
He speaks!

Ah! when will he return?
When might I hear him?
I suffered, I was alone and my heart grew peaceful,
In listening to his melodious and tender voice,
My heart grew peaceful!

Beloved Prophet, can I live without you!
Beloved Prophet, can I live . . . . live without you!
Ah! when will he return?  when might I hear him!
Beloved Prophet, can I live without you!

Maria Jeritza

This is from the obituary in the New York Times, dated July 11, 1982

Maria Jeritza, the internationally renowned soprano who has been called the golden girl of opera’s ”golden age,” died yesterday at St. Mary’s Hospital in Orange, N.J., after a long illness. She was 94 years old and lived in Newark.

She was, said one admiring Metropolitan Opera veteran, a ”genuine 24-carat prima donna of the old school.” When Maria Jeritza swept on stage – a tall, imperious, yet irresistibly feminine woman with a ravishing figure, exquisite face and shimmering blond hair – audiences knew they were in the presence of a star. And one of the things that made Miss Jeritza a prima donna was that she knew it, too.

Miss Jeritza was one of the great artists of opera’s ”golden age,” or at least the latter part of it, from 1910 to 1930. It was a time in which opera singers were accorded the sort of mass adulation they hardly receive today; the only contemporary parallel would be the hysteria that greets rock singers, but that is from presumably susceptible teen-agers.
In the two cities in which Miss Jeritza based her career, Vienna and New York, she was a household word, the object of envy and avalanches of gushing newsprint.

Opinions vary as to her greatest role, but there can be no question that the title role in ”Tosca” was the part by which the general public knew her best. Floria Tosca is herself an opera singer, and Miss Jeritza’s portrayal epitomized everything opera audiences loved about her. Voracious Love of Life

It was grandly and broadly sung, with a hefty lyric-spinto soprano. It was passionately acted, in so convincing a manner that singers to this day copy her in many details – above all, the business of singing ”Vissi d’arte,” her great second-act aria, prostrate on the floor before the diabolical Scarpia. And it radiated a love of life so voracious that Miss Jeritza was idolized in just the way Tosca was meant to have been idolized in Puccini’s opera.

Miss Jeritza enjoyed adulation from every quarter. Olin Downes of The New York Times called her first Metropolitan Opera Tosca in 1921 a ”sweeping triumph.” It was, he said, ”gloriously sung,” ”distinguished and original,” blessed with ”physical beauty of the highest type.”
”Those whose privilege it was to behold her performance will have memories,” he concluded. ”When great artists arise in future years, they will say: ‘But I heard Maria Jeritza in ”Tosca.” ‘ ”

Marcel Prawy, the historian of the Vienna Opera, was more succinct. He simply called Miss Jeritza ”the prima donna of the century.” Critics were hardly alone in their admiration. Miss Jeritza’s third husband, Irving P. Seery, a New Jersey businessman and lawyer, was said to have fallen in love with her in 1910 when he saw her on the stage and remained a bachelor for 38 years until he could finally marry her.
Aside from her husbands, she was reported to have had close relationships with some of the most famous composers of her day. Hardly a year went by in the 1920’s when Miss Jeritza was not in the Austrian courts, suing to suppress some scandalous novel that purported to reveal new facets of her love life.

Musing over her collection of jewels several years ago, she sniffed scornfully about today’s prima donnas: ”Flowers! If they had tried to give me only flowers, I would have spit in their faces.”

Her fans, in Vienna and New York, were as tenacious as they were loyal. Giulio Gatti-Casazza, director of the Metropolitan Opera from 1908 to 1935, said her ovation after ”Vissi d’arte” was the greatest he had ever heard. And when she returned to the scenes of her former triumphs in the early 1950’s, applause stopped the shows for minutes on end.

Miss Jeritza had a good head for publicity, and her lavishly publicized imbroglios with the leading sopranos and tenors of her time only added to popular fascination with her.

Her best-known tenor antagonists were Alfred Piccaver, the English-American who was a leading tenor in Vienna, and Beniamino Gigli, who was said to have kicked her in the shins over who should get priority during a curtain call. He thus caused Miss Jeritza to appear alone before the Met footlights, weeping and crying that ”Mr. Gigli is not nice to me.”

Lotte Lehmann, the first to sing the role of Composer in Richard Strauss’s ”Ariadne auf Naxos,” (Miss Jeritza was the first Ariadne) and the first Dyer’s Wife in his ”Die Frau ohne Schatten” (Miss Jeritza was the first Empress), was amusingly sharp-tongued about her rival in her autobiographical study of Strauss’s operas. And the grand and venerable Lilli Lehmann is said to have observed, apropos Miss Jeritza’s Tosca, that ”a real artist shouldn’t have to lie on her face to sing a big aria.” A Battle During ‘Die Walkure’

The most celebrated Jeritza feud involved Maria Olszewska, a noted mezzo-soprano of the period between the World Wars. At a 1925 performance of ”Die Walkure” in Vienna, Miss Olczewska became upset over what she believed to be some giggling and whispering from the wings on the part of Miss Jeritza and another artist.

After several increasingly emphatic comments of ”Cut it out,” ”Silly gooses” and ”Pigs” failed to quiet the disturbance, Miss Olczewska marched determinedly toward the wings and spat at Miss Jeritza, hitting the other giggler. She was dismissed from the company, and then sued for reinstatement on the ground that Miss Jeritza was, illegitimately, the de facto head of the company. Miss Olczewska was eventually rehired.

Miss Jeritza was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia – then Brunn, Austria – on Oct. 6, 1887, according to most current reference books (when she was at the Met in the 1920’s, newspaper interviews gave her year of birth as 1891). Her original name was Mitzi Jedlicka, but she changed it to Jeritza (pronounced HAIR-itza) in her early 20’s.

Although her family was poor – her father was a concierge – she received early dramatic and vocal training and made her debut as a member of the Olmutz Opera company in 1910 as Elsa in Wagner’s ”Lohengrin.” Five months later won a position at the Vienna Volksoper, with Elisabeth in Wagner’s ”Tannhauser” as her debut role. With that forum and subsequent appearances in a lavish production of Offenbach’s ”La Belle Helene” in Munich and as Strauss’s first Ariadne in Stuttgart, the young singer gained an increasingly favorable reputation.

But it was not until Emperor Franz Joseph heard her as Rosalinda in ”Die Fledermaus” at Bad Ischl, a summer spa, that she was invited to join the Vienna Opera itself. ”Why isn’t this ravishing creature singing at the court opera?” the monarch asked. ”Must I always listen to fat, elderly women?”

Miss Jeritza made her debut in 1912 in the title role of a long-forgotten opera called ”Aphrodite,” dressed in a costume that then seemed the next thing to nakedness. Her success was complete. By the time she left for the United States, she had nearly 60 roles in her repertory.
Miss Jeritza’s career at the Metropolitan Opera lasted from 1921 to 1932, although she returned to Vienna each year and sang in many of the important houses of the world.

At the Met, Miss Jeritza sang 20 roles, counting a single Rosalinda she learned in English for a benefit in 1951. Her most famous and frequent Met parts were Tosca, Santuzza, Sieglinde, Elsa, Elisabeth, Octavian, Turandot and Minnie. But she also essayed Carmen (one of her few failures, despite such novelties as a ”Seguidilla” sung flat on her back), appeared in the ill-fated American premieres of Korngold’s ”Die tote Stadt” (her debut role) and Strauss’s ”Die egyptische Helena” and the historically more significant American premiere of Janacek’s ”Jenufa.”

As her repertory and her recordings suggest, Miss Jeritza had a big, bright, gleaming soprano – toward the end of her prime, she took on the ”Walkure” Brunnhilde, although she never went further into the heavy Wagnerian parts. Early in her career, the critics were nearly unanimous in their praise of her singing. In her last years at the Met, there were complaints about stridency, scooping” up to notes and singing under pitch.

Her acting style was highly realistic (real tears were, it is said, not uncommon) and marked by an innate theatricality. The habit of singing ”Vissi d’arte” on her stomach apparently came about after an accident during a dress rehearsal. Puccini rushed up to her after the act and insisted that she always do it that way, that her insight was ”from God.” In her later years, though, what had seemed at first like inspired theatricality came sometimes to look like calculated mannerism.
Still, her acting, or perhaps the simple magnetism of her stage presence, obviously overwhelmed most of her audience. She was an artist in the Callas mold. Miss Jeritza was never afraid to sacrifice bel canto beauty of tone for dramatic effect.

After she left the Met in 1932, Miss Jeritza continued to sing, in Europe and all over the United States. She also made several movies, most notably of a Lehar operetta for the German UFA company. But she gradually devoted more and more of her time to retirement.

In 1934 she divorced her first husband, Baron Leopold von Popper, an Austrian businessman, and the next year she married Winfield Sheehan, a Hollywood film executive. The marriage brought her a lavish estate in Beverly Hills, with a dining room that seated 182.

Mr. Sheehan died in 1945, and in 1948 Miss Jeritza married Mr. Seery, who died in 1966. After that, she continued to live in her Newark home, accompanied by her private secretary of many decades. She had no children.
She was active well into her 80’s, serving as hostess for functions at the residence of the late Cardinal Spellman and for visiting Austrian officials, and maintaining a regular box and block of seats for the Saturday matinee performances at the Met.