Born in Brünn, Austria October 6, 1887, Maria Jeritza (originally Jedlitzka), studied at her native conservatory and soon became a member of the chorus at the Municipal Theatre. Her beauty, vocal abilities and stage presence attracted attention and she was signed by the Vienna Volksoper. In 1912 Kaiser Franz Josef was so impressed by her that he arranged for her to appear at the Vienna Imperial Opera. Quickly she became one of the leading prima donnas of the house, appearing in a wide variety of roles not only in Vienna, but in major opera houses of France, England, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary and Russia. From 1921-32 she sang with the Metropolitan Opera, making her debut November 19, 1921 in the New York premiere of Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, who wrote his opera with Jeritza in mindearlier that year she sang the world premiere in Vienna. (Korngold also wrote Violanta and Das Wunder der Heliane for her.) Of this performance, Richard Aldrich wrote in the New York Times: "Her voice is powerful, of youthful and sympathetic quality....but when used with the power and intensity required in this part....degenerated unpleasantly into stridency...she has a tendency to "scoop" her tones...it is a voice of musical value...Her personality is engaging and brilliant, her blond piquancy undeniable...she is an actress of native ability and demonstrated the dancing woman with spirit, vivacity and full-blooded dramatic power." Of her Tosca the following month Olin Downes wrote, "she gave a performance of thrilling beauty and intensity, every tone and gesture of which was instinct with authority and imagination. She sobbed at the end of "Vissi d'arte," and more than one of her hearers wept with her. She is a great artist, no question of that..." Once early in her career during a rehearsal of Tosca she fell on the floor during the tumult with Scarpia and stayed there to sing" Vissi d'Arte." Puccini was there, loved the effect and from that time on Jeritza sang the aria lying on the flooran idea picked up by a few other sopranos, most of whom were thin enough not to look like a beached whale when lying down. Other roles Jeritza sang in her first Met season included Fedora, Elsa, Sieglinde and Santuzza.
Richard Strauss had particular admiration for Jeritza. In October 1919 she sang the Empress in the world premiere of Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Vienna State Opera and in the world premiere of Ariadne auf Naxos, as well as Salome, The Egyptian Helen and Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. Puccini praised Jeritza's performances of Tosca and Minnie, composing Turandot with her in mind. She also sang the Vienna premiere of Janacek's Jenufa, as well as appearing often in light opera and operetta in which she could display her manifold singing, acting and dancing skills. She stayed with the Vienna State Opera until 1935. After World War II she worked towards restoration of the war-damaged Vienna State opera House. In 1924 she wrote her memoirs (Sunlight and Song), married New Jersey businessman Irving Seery in 1948 and moved to New Jersey where she made her home until her death July 10, 1982 at the age of 94.
Physically Maria Jeritza was striking, a tall, slim figure with blue eyes and silvery-blonde hair. Always mindful of the importance of publicity, she made the newspapers often, once with a tip about how she kept her elbows so beautifulshe soaked them in grapefruit juice every day. In the 1930's she made several films. It's easy to understand her fame. Audiences apparently loved her vivacious energy and dynamic approach to everything she sang. However, listening to performances on this CD one might well wonder what all the excitement was about even though these were recorded from 1923-1927 when Jeritza was in her prime. She stated how uncomfortable she was with the recording process, having to be in a small room with an orchestra of limited size, having to move away from the microphone depending on how loud the music was. Some of her singing on these recordings is slightly off-pitch, and her famous "scoops" can be heard in the Tristan and Gioconda excerpts. She does have a respectable trill, heard in the second Goldmark aria. Marietta in Tote Stadt was one of her most famous roles. "Marietta's Lied" from the first act is actually a duet in the original opera, but soprano and tenor sing together only at the climax of the aria. Sopranos often perform this aria singing both lines to great effect. For whatever reason, on Jeritza's recording she doesn't sing the B-flat at the beginning although she does sing the one at the aria's conclusion.
If you wish to get an idea of what Jeritza sounded like, this is the only way to do so, aside from some brief excerpts recorded live at the Vienna State Opera in 1933, on Koch Schwann and difficult to find. Preiser's transfers are fine. No texts or timings.
R.E.B. (Feb. 2001)