Maria Jeritza (1887-1982) was one of opera’s most glamorous and accomplished sopranos of the pre-World War I years extending to the early 30s. She was famous for her large and silvery spinto and her flamboyant acting which sometimes crossed the border into overacting.

Born Marie Jedličková in the Moravian city of Brno, she trained at that city’s conservatory. The bulk of her career was made at the Vienna State Opera where she sang from 1912–1934 and 1950-1953 and at the Metropolitan Opera where she gave 344 performances between 1920 and 1932. She appeared in one performance of Die Fledermaus as Rosalinde in 1951.

Her repertory was an unusual one. It was built around Puccini and a few of his contemporaries, Wagner and Strauss, and several French operas, notably Carmen. She sang no Verdi during her New York years. The Vienna Opera’s archives are not user friendly, so I couldn’t tell if she sang Verdi there.

An aside about opera archives. The Met has the best such site, but that’s not saying much. It recently went through a complete overhaul that made it much harder to find useful information than before they spent a lot of time and money to “upgrade” the site. The viewer has to work a lot harder to find the info he’s after which is still on the site but in a well camouflaged position which requires more clicks and a bit of computer savvy. Back to Jeritza.

Her Puccini operas were Tosca, La Fanciulla Del West, Il Tabarro (in Vienna not New York), and Turandot. She sang all the Wagner soprano roles up to Die Walküre in which she was Sieglinde. She avoided the heaviest Wagner roles.

She made her New York debut on November 19, 1921 as Marietta/ Marie in the company’s first performance of Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt. She received wonderful reviews. The opera went over the heads of the critics and the audiences as it disappeared after 12 performances and has yet to reappear after more than a century of neglect. Gluck das mir verlieb is sung in the opera by both the tenor and the soprano.

Twelve days later she gave her first performance as Tosca. Her interpretation of Puccini’s diva is legendary. Both the critics and the audience were overwhelmed by her performance and glamorous good looks. She sang Vissi D’arte prone on the floor after being thrown there by Scarpia. She said Puccini had enthusiastically approved this stage business. Thereafter she was one of the Met’s brightest stars. Her combination of vocal prowess, beauty, and acting made her unique. She eventually settled in the US and lived the remainder of her long life after retiring from opera in America.

The great tenor Aureliano Pertile had the bad luck to make his Met debut in the same performance of Tosca that was dominated by Jeritza’s triumph. He went almost noticed and left the company after only one season to return to La Scala where he was Toscanini’s favorite tenor.

She was closely associated with Richard Strauss and was the first Ariadne in both versions of Ariadne Auf Naxos as well as the first Empress in the composer’s Die Frau Ohne Schatten. Es gibt ein Reich appears in the second half of Ariadne – the Opera. Unfortunately for New York audiences, Ariadne did not reach the Met until 1962.

Another important first for Jeritza was the title role in Puccini’s Turandot at the North American premiere of the opera at the Met on Nov 16, 1926. Unfortunately, she did not record any of the music from this opera. The critics were kind to Jeritza, but not to Puccini’s score. Although it opened the following season, it disappeared from the Met’s repertory after 27 performances the last of which was in 1930. It did not return for 31 years until Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli gave it enduring life and a new generation of critics realized its true worth.

Cavalleria Rusticana was a frequent addition to her repertoire. Voi lo sapete depicts Santuzza’s desperate situation after being seduced by Turiddu and then abandoned. The inference, though not stated, is that she’s enceinte.

Jeritza’s spinto soprano allowed her to sing mezzo roles. In Der Rosenkavalier she was Octavian. Her Carmen was one of her rare failures. She was savaged by the critics for her sluttish impersonation of Bizet’s gypsy. She sang with a cigarette in her mouth and lying on a table and in general gave an over the top impersonation.

Wagner was a frequent entry to her role list. Der Fliegende Holländer was his fourth opera and first success. In Traft ihr das Schiff the teenage Senta, looks upon a picture of the legendary Dutchman that hangs from the wall; she desires to save him. She sings to her friends the story of the Dutchman and how Satan heard him swear and took him at his word. She vows to save him by her fidelity. When it comes to immature punchdrunk love Senta is in the same class as Verdi’s Gilda – Rigoletto’s daughter.

Jeritza frequently appeared as Elsa in Lohengrin. In the first act, Elsa who’s falsely accused of murdering her brother needs a champion to defend her in a trial by combat. In Elsa’s dream (Einsam in trüben Tagen) she laments her brother’s fate. Lohengrin appears shortly thereafter and wins the trial.

The only Ring opera in her repertoire was Die Walküre – she was Sieglinde. Du bist Der Lenz is sung by both Sieglinde and Siegmund. This excerpt is the soprano part. Du bist der Lenz. She never sang Isolde onstage but did make a fine recording of the Liebestod – Mild und leise

Massenet’s Thaïs was a regular role for her. She had the good looks to make her portrayal of a beautiful courtesan believable. The Mirror aria, Dis-moi que je suis belle, is in Act 2. Thaïs realizes that one day, old age will destroy her beauty. Another Massenet opera that she did not sing in New York is Hérodiade. This is a different telling of the story of John (Jean) the Baptist and Salome who in this version finds religion and is a good girl, unlike Strauss’s Salome who is deranged. Il est doux, il est bon is in Act 1, Salome muses over the virtues of Jean.

Jeritza was a star of the first magnitude. She had it all and made the most of her gifts and magnetism. The Moravian Thunderbolt was a one of a kind.