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.