January 2012 “Singer of the Month”: Maria Jeritza (1887-1982)

Maria Jeritza

Years ago, when I began studying Puccini’s Turandot, I came across the name Maria Jeritza in Mosco Carner’s biography “Puccini: A Critical Biography,” along with several other names that ended up fuelling my operatic interests and studies for the next several years.  Jeritza, born in Brno in 1887 is a singer who perhaps deserves more attention than she has yet received, both historically and as a performance icon.  Fascinating because she created several of the most coveted roles in all of opera and worked with the greatest composers of her era, Jeritza belonged to a generation of singer that honed their instruments to a point that any major composer had to seek them, a practice that seems to have dissipated in recent years.  For me, her work with Puccini and Strauss is the most valuable to sopranos who are learning or attempting to sing the roles she created, because she worked hand in hand with the composers and was able to produce the vocal nuances and stylistic aspects they desired in their heroines.

As Turandot

As Marie/Marietta

She created the roles of Blanchefleur in Kienl’s opera Der Keurigen (1911), Ariadne in Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos (1912), the Empress in his Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919), and Marie/Marietta in Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt (1920), the latter also being the role of her debut with the Metropolitan Opera on November 19, 1921.

With Richard Strauss

On November 16, 1926, she starred in the title role of Puccini’s Turandot in its North American premiere at the Metropolitan, where she also created the title or leading soprano roles in Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa (1924), Ermanno Wolf-Ferrarri’s I Gioelli Della Madonna (1925), Korngold’s Violante (1927), Richard Strauss’ Die Āgyptsche Helena (1928), and Franz Von Suppé’s Boccaccio (1931) and Donna Juanita (1932.) Her popularity at the Metropolitan was, as in Vienna, immense, especially as Tosca, Carmen and Massenet’s Thaïs.

In the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musician’s, it states:

Her Covent Garden performances were confined to seven roles during 1925 and 1926, whereas at the Metropolitan she sang 290 performances in 20 roles. After World War II she made isolated appearances in Vienna and New York (having become a naturalized American). Though endowed with an ample and lustrous voice, Jeritza belonged to the category of artist known as a ‘singing actress’, freely yielding both dramatically and vocally to impulses that were sometimes more flamboyant than refined. In her numerous recordings, faults of taste and technique co-exist with genuine vocal achievements. Archival material from the Vienna Staatsoper in the 1930s testifies to the magnetic effect she had on audiences. (Desmond Shawe-Taylor/R).

In 1948 she married New Jersey businessman Irving Seery and moved to a mansion located in the Forrest Hill neighborhood of Newark, NJ where she made her home until her death in 1982, at age 94. She died in Orange, New Jersey, and is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington, New Jersey.

Jeritza made a number of 78-rpm recordings which testify to the high quality of her voice. Many of these recordings have been released on CD. She also wrote an autobiography called “Sunlight and Song” in 1924.

From Vienna in May 1923, Puccini wrote a letter to Giueseppe Adami, which indicates the type of power a singer like Maria Jeritza held over productions and over the composers who sought her talent.  He wrote:

Dear Adamino,

In hate: arrived safely.  Cool today, but very warm journey.  There is talk of “Manon” for September.  They are giving “Cappelli Bianchi” in a few days.  Eisenschitz wanted to give you a pleasant surprise.  If Jeritza accepts they will do “Manon.”  If not I shall return to my work.  But I shall stay here a little while for the festivities which they have prepared for me.  They treat me here as if I were the Kaiser or the Crown Prince.  Living is enormously dear.  My bedroom and sitting-room cost 500,000 crowns a day.  I am well.  My thoughts are on the lovely “Turandot,” lovely in her newest attire, thanks to the great “tailleur” Adamino.  And talking of beauty, last night at the Opera, in Strauss’s “Legend of Joseph” there was an ensemble of the feminine nude that would have turned the head of St. Francis.  Good-bye.  Greetings to you from us all. (Giuseppe Adami, ed., “The Letters of Giacomo Puccini,” Translated by Ena Makin, (London: Harrap & Co, 1931), 307).

I find it fascinating that unless Jeritza accepted the offer to sing Manon Lescaut, Puccini would simply just return to his work.  It is also interesting to note that Puccini was at this time already thinking of Turandot.  It is no big surprise that Jeritza would sing its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera.

Mosco Carner recounts:  “Jeritza was to become a celebrated interpreter of this role [Tosca] as well as that of Minnie in La Fanciulla; Puccini himself later declared her his best Tosca and ‘one of the most original artists I have ever known’.  It was, incidentally, Jeritza who by an accident introduced the half-lying position in which most Toscas now address their “Vissi D’Arte” to Scarpia.  In her tussle with the Roman Chief of Police she had, during a rehearsal, slipped to the ground, a position which Puccini considered in perfect keeping with the emotional situation at that moment and which he asked her to retain.”  Apparently, she received over 50 curtain called for her portrayal.

What I love about this last video is not just the singing but the gallant manner of introduction for these two artists, the respect paid to them by the speaker, the idea that opera singers were adored at a level that surpassed the normative artist.  Where has this well-deserved respect and gracious manner gone?  Those who lived during this period had less in terms of technology and methods of communication, but the thought that families would turn on the radio and listen to something like this, together, and in respect of great art, might just be worth turning back the clock…even if for a little while.

© Mary-Lou Vetere, 2012

Millo speaks about the World of Opera and “Minnie’s Beautiful Heart” (in GBOpera Magazine)

Known for her super-magnificent opera blog, Operavision, for her elevated intellect, and for her eloquence in writing and speech, it is obvious that Aprile Millo doesn’t just sing well (even if her’s is one of the greatest voices of all-time)–she is a true defender of the faith; operatic faith, that is. Recently, she has developed a column at the request of  GBOPERA Magazine, an Italian-based publication that is devoted to all-things operatic.  Here is a link to Opera AM and her recent publication:

“Puccini’s Love Letter to the Golden West” (April 2, 2011) English Version

Opera AM with Aprile Millo Italian Version


Millo’s love letter to Puccini

On a day of anniversary, these thoughts from a great soprano could not be overlooked. Her posting on Operavision could not have been more well-researched or heart-felt. In a time when appearance is more important than voice, I cannot be quiet, and will NOT be quiet, nor still in knowing that THIS great Minnie ought to be singing tonight. For any who heard her Laggiu nel Soledad at her 25th anniversary recital in November of 2009…and me, who has the distinct pleasure of hearing this voice more often, recently, than most…her inflection, emotion, quality of tone and gargantuan high C would have sent Puccini soaring, and yet she routes on her colleagues and wishes for the best possible presentation for them. A true elegant Diva…folllowing the examples of her mentors. I honor him today and I honor her voice as the only true and authentic voice alive today that belongs to the Girl of the Golden West.

Listen to Millo’s performance of “Laggiu nel Soledad” from the 25th Anniversary 2009

Millo’s Love Letter to the Golden West

“Laggiu nel Soledad, Cento Anni Fa”: Fanciulla del West in Review, Then and Now

Months ago, I voiced my opinion about the interesting casting for this important 100th anniversary production of Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West.” Tonight, I recall some of the history associated with this important opera.  In 1910, Fanciulla debuted at the MET with Puccini in the audience and with hand-picked singers, Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn.  The libretto was written by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini, based on the play The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco.

Since I first heard Fanciulla, the score and the text fascinated me for a number of reasons.  In honour of the 100 years ago since Puccini’s Golden Girl premiered, I would like to explore some of those reasons here and also express my opinions on this evening’s broadcast and how the two amalgamate, or separate.

Fanciulla was composed in 1908, after a very emotional and psychologically tumultuous period in Puccini’s life.  It is also the first work in which his heroine does “not” die.  There is a very significant reason for this, one that was very personal and yet effected musically and dramatically in the extension of Minnie’s character.  But, it is not only this that distinguishes Minnie from his other heroines.  Her other supreme asset is her authority over the men…a trait Puccini continues to explore in Turandot. (Effectively, all of Puccini’s have some authority over men, but stay tuned for that conversation in upcoming opera chats/lectures).

The premiere, on December 1910, proved one of the most spectacular events in the annals of theatre. Opera historian, Julian Budden recounts, “The house was packed with notables of every variety–diplomats, generals, leaders of high society, and such artists of eminence as happened to be in the city, among them the pianist Josef Hoffmann, and the composer Humperdinck.  The “Sun” summed up the occasion with the banner headline, ‘GOLDEN WEST IN OPERA DRAWS GOLD FROM EAST’. The performance itself had every appearance of an uncontested triumph:  47 curtain calls and a silver wreath presented to Puccini by Gatti-Casazza amid loud cheers.  Next day a banquet in Puccini’s honour offered by the Vanderbilts.”

After some hiatus, Puccini had given up the idea of working on a “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and instead took on the idea of Belasco’s play, however you will note that the opera sounds remotely different than his earlier works.  In Fanciulla, Puccini not only expands his melodic spectrum, but the orchestra becomes much more present.  Typical of him, as in Butterfly, Puccini adopted western melodies, traditional american songs, and even cadential phrases that mimic negro spirituals and imbedded them within the symphonic structure of the opera. Textually, he instituted a more expansive free-form style than in any of his previous works.  Here, as in Turandot, Puccini demands that his orchestra adopt the palate of the insinuated “tinta;” whether it be Chinese or Western, the orchestra in these late works is fully recognized as a character with which the voices are meant to integrate, alla Richard Strauss, where a web is woven by the presence of the voice as an instrument and the orchestra as a voice.

But, what is more, Fanciulla’s expressive text and the free manner of writing is more firmly linked to the actual inflection of Italian.  Therefore, for Fanciulla to be exciting, it requires a conductor who understands how to balance the colorito (as Puccini called it) in the orchestra, and singers who have a fervent grasp of the nuances in the Italian language (not to mention specific voice colours that are typically lugubrious and rich in the middle.  Perhaps more rhythmic than any of his other works, Fanciulla’s impetus is of “off-beats” and “accents” that create the offsetting western swagger of the Golden West.

The set of the MET’s Production


Tonight’s production, which remounts the opera for the 100th Anniversary of the actual premiere on Dec. 10, was well-done, but unfortunately lacked in several of Puccini’s absolutes.  Let’s not forget, HE was there and highly involved in the production in 1910.  Nicola Luisotti, who is well-respected as the newest conductor of Italian productions at the MET, opened with what should be an Allegro ma non troppo in an excited and explosive manner, if not too fast.  It is here at the opening of Puccini’s work that one must linger in the sonorities that he created because of his continual indication that the “Tinta” was initially created by the orchestra and then expanded throughout his web of sound.  If one glosses over these rich chords, it is difficult to achieve the sort of affect Puccini demanded.  For the most part, he kept the orchestra nicely balanced although it sometimes lacked in the lower resonances, which are the scaffolding on which Puccini built so many magnificent moments. Puccini’s orchestral texture ought to be thought of as vertical–that is, stemming from from what might be called “earthly” sonorities (the low resonances of the orchestra), the “middle hemisphere” (where the voice and the motives circulate), and the “ethereal” (the highest sonorities of the orchestra, and often of the soprano).  In order to attain the Puccinian palate, these must be balanced in accordance with the text and emotion that is occurring.  Although Luisotti did a fine job of keeping everything moving and exciting, Puccini’s works stem from a period of opera that requires one to look at “everything” intrinsically.

Maestro Nicola Luisotti

In the opening scene with the miners, the orchestra was slightly overbearing and more attention could have been paid  to the offbeats that require that extra bit of accent to make the atmosphere more authentically western. Although the voices were quite nice, and the scene was well produced, the conversation between the miners sounded too technical and off the page rather than naturally spoken with Italian inflection.  Puccini was a master at capturing the inflection of naturalized text in a rhythm, and so to achieve authenticity or accento puro, one needs to just speak it alla Italiana.  In  this production, Marcello Giordani was the chief representative of this trait.

At the point of Minnie’s entrance, the orchestra might have been balanced toward the higher resonances, the high strings, as is a typically associated with Puccinian heroines.  Ms. Voigt’s entrance was interesting if not slightly under-pitch.  Minnie’s entrance is a difficult one and the role does take some warming up to get into, however  much can be done with Minnie’s character because she is so utterly unique in Puccini’s oeuvre; in fact, it is just as much about her personality and her text than her voice.  One reason, in particular, for which she is so beloved is because she does not die. She is energetic and brilliant and a woman of strength.  Ms. Voigt, while attempting to deal with the difficulties of the music, lacked some of this necessary brilliance initially, although she warmed up to some extremely expressive moments in ACT II.  Her Laggiù nel Soledad was pretty, but too careful in terms of the text.  Her end to the ACT II poker game was most definitely her best singing of the evening, expressive and dramatic.

Deborah Voigt


Voigt’s colleague, Mr. Giordani sang with more authentic Italian inflection and exhibited several magnificent moments in the upper tessitura, however, Dick Johnson sits lower than some tenor roles and so the middle voice was slightly pushed this evening.  His singing of “No, Minnie, non piangete” was certainly his best singing of the evening, heartfelt and passionate.  This scene is my favourite because of the impending transfer of Johnson’s melody to the concert master.  Here, Puccini’s masterful chord transitions, as he develops the melody, are illuminating and vibrant.  Luisotti might have taken the end of this section with a stronger focus in the violins.



All in all, the production was good but not spectacular.  For the 100th anniversary, I feel that the MET ought to have gone out on a limb and presented something more extravagant with this production, especially since the premiere was such a monumental and historical event.  Nevertheless, those who sit in the theatre on December 10, and those who listen to the radio should recall the great man who sat in the old-Met and listened to his music performed in America.  What a triumph for the MET and for Puccini, who with Minnie (the unconquerable) had overcome the most serious and difficult moments of his life.  She is his legacy of truth and those who sing her ought to be blessed with the knowledge that Minnie, above all his heroines, is superlative.


©Mary-Lou Vetere, 2010