V2518. MARIA JERITZA: O mer, ouvre-toi, Linceul du monde (Delibes); Träume (Wagner); Arias from Thais, Jeanne d'Arc, Le Cid, Hérodiade, Fedora, La Gioconda, Cavalleria, Tosca, Der Freischütz, Lohengrin, Tristan, Das Helmchen am Herd (Goldmark), Die Tote Stadt (Korngold), Der Fliegende Holländer & Die Walküre. (France) Malibran AMR 133.
“Maria Jeritza was born in Czechoslovakia, trained in the Viennese style of operatic singing, and became a superstar of her era both at the Vienna State Opera and the Metropolitan. She was particularly admired for the force of her acting (for example singing ‘Vissi d’arte’ while prone on her stomach) and her glamorous appearance.
Interestingly, most of her records don’t show the temperament or force of personality that so many who saw her describe vividly. Her singing as heard without the visual element is rather plain and somewhat under-inflected. It is, however, singing definitely worth knowing, and is treasurable for purely vocal virtues. The tone is steady throughout a wide range, the voice has a shining glow that is singularly lovely in the middle and upper-middle registers. The tone is pure, the registers are firmly bound together, and her sense of shaping phrases is natural and unforced. In addition, even with the limits of early electrical recordings one senses the sheer power of the voice (she sang the title role in the American premiere of TURANDOT at the Met in 1926).
Critics referred to her willingness to give up beauty of sound for dramatic effect. That must have been true in live performances (some variant of it has been said by too many to be untrue), but that is completely different from what we hear on the records. Even Tosca’s ‘Vissi d’arte’ is somewhat under-inflected here. But it is sung with extraordinary tonal beauty, and an innate feel for how the music should go. It is not surprising to learn that Puccini adored her Tosca (it is reported that when she slipped at a rehearsal and out of necessity sang the aria on her stomach, Puccini ran up and told her she must always do that).
Highlights of this disc include a stunningly lovely recording of Marietta’s song from DIE TOTE STADT, almost as beautiful as Lotte Lehmann’s, the two FEDORA scenes, the rarely heard and exquisite Goldmark arias, and breathtaking performances of all the Massenet scenes included. To find a soprano equally at home as TURANDOT and THAÏS is a rare occasion. Throughout this disc we hear a dramatic soprano voice capable of both power and delicate beauty, never with any hardening of the tone. To find both the amplitude and focus of tone capable of sounding at home in Wagner and Delibes is to find something rare and cherishable….There is some very beautiful singing to be had here, and this disc can be recommended warmly.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"When Maria Jeritza, the internationally renowned soprano who has been called the golden girl of opera's ‘golden age’, swept onstage - 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. Miss Jeritza's portrayal of Tosca epitomized everything opera audiences loved about her. 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’ 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 1920s 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. 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 1950s, 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' 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’ 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’.
Miss Jeritza made her début 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 Rosalinde 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 ‘Séguidille’ sung flat on her back), and appeared in the ill-fated American premieres of Korngold's DIE TOTE STADT (her début role) and Strauss' DIE AEGYPTISCHE HELENA and the historically more significant American premiere of Janácek'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 WALKÜRE Brünnhilde, 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 Lehár operetta for the German UFA company. But she gradually devoted more and more of her time to retirement.”
- John Rockwell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 11 July, 1982