"Let's not be so modest."

Dear General Director,                                                                                           

Ladies and Gentlemen,   

I gave my first master class at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in September 2003. On my last day, leaving the building, I met my old professor, Mr Ujfalussy, at the entrance. He asked me how my teaching had gone, and when I replied, "I hope it went well because I really like teaching", he smiled and said, "Just be careful so that it does not become a passion". His words did not let me rest. I was thinking a lot about how I could help and support the singers of the future. I felt a calling to be at the forefront of raising a new generation of singers in Hungary. Considering my life, career, and work, I felt almost obliged to fulfil this desire of mine. When Rector Dr. András Batta asked me to head the singing department, I said yes without a second thought. I did not go to America or Japan to teach; I did not stay in Germany; I was happy to come home.

But the road to teaching was very long and varied, and I honestly don't regret a minute of it. I will try to summarise it briefly; maybe I can. Let's start at the beginning.

I was born Éva Heinrich on 18th June 1943 in Budapest, in the 11th district, in Ferencváros. We lived in Bakáts Street. My father was a cook, and my mother ran the household and raised her three children.

The desire to sing developed early on, although the only inspiration came from Tibor Udvardy, an opera singer living two houses away from us and practising at home. Among the houses there was a courtyard full of trees and bushes. We always played there, and I could admire the beautiful, noble tenor voice while playing. I started playing the piano at the age of nine or ten; I enrolled myself at the Mester Street Music School. I could practice in the school gym. I got my first piano in 1956. In primary school, we regularly performed children's operas, such as "Hansel and Gretel", and because of my size, I was Hansel. In the meantime, I was accepted into the Hungarian Radio Children's Choir. Still, after a relatively short time, despite the excellent work we were doing there, I quit at my own request, feeling that choral singing was not my cup of tea. I graduated from the Móra Ferenc Secondary School.

I started to mutate to an unexpected extent before I graduated, so I had nothing to do, I had to take a break from singing. That was when I started playing sports. I started training with the Petőfi volleyball team and soon made the team, even becoming a youth national replacement team member. I went to concerts, theatre and opera performances, and I was delighted to have my voice back over time. In 1961, I applied for admission to the Academy of Music but was not accepted. I was considered immature. I worked through the sports club for a year; I had to do accounting or whatever. It was a disaster; nothing was ever accurate. In the meantime, I attended singing lessons and studied other subjects necessary for singing. After a year, I applied again and was accepted.

In 1963, I met a young man who, as a graduate doctor, successfully cured my stomach upset. He has been looking after my health ever since, for almost fifty years now. At the Academy, my teachers warned me that it would not end well - singing, playing sports and being in a relationship with an active young man. That's how I stopped playing sports, which has helped me enormously in my work for a lifetime. In 1965, we got married, and our son Zoltán was born in 1966. I took my husband's name, so Éva Heinrich became Éva Marton. 

In 1968, when I graduated from the Academy of Music, even though I had a first-class degree and the critics wrote after my opera exam that I was a God-blessed talent, I was not admitted to the Opera. Apparently, it was too much even for the Ministry because I was given a scholarship from September to 31st December. This is how I started to work at the Opera. A few weeks later, I had quite a hazardous replacement role. I had to take over the role of Princess Semahan in Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Golden Cockerel" from a colleague who could not cope with it. I learnt the three acts in three days; I had the will, the unbreakable perseverance, and the compulsion to prove I was the one for the job. Of course, I knew that I should take advantage of this opportunity. Thank God, it was a great success. I became a member of the Opera on 1st January. This perseverance and desire to prove myself have accompanied me throughout my career.   

The outside world takes for granted the experiences it has received and continues to receive from Hungarian culture and artists who – let's not be bashful – have been trained on Hungarian money. And we have cost and still cost Hungary a lot. This country has always been too small and poor to provide a decent living for all its talents, and foreign countries have always taken advantage of this. Zoltán Kodály recalled that the journalist Jenő Rákosi wrote an editorial in the 19th century protesting against the education of musicians, who later moved and worked abroad, adding that "this poor, small country gave them as a gift to the rich, big countries. Hungary was a patron of Europe, depriving itself of the artists of its music culture." But if I'm quoting from music academy readings, well, Kodály also described the fate of Hungarian talents with the lines of our renowned poet, Sándor Petőfi: "They will be swept far away! Far away from us all around the world! To the treasury of a foreign nation!"

This is true. However, we should not despair, and we should not be modest either: through our composers – including Liszt, Bartók, Kodály, Weiner, Ligeti, Szokolay, Kurtág, Eötvös – and our conductors – such as Szél, Ormándy, Fricsay, Doráti, Solti, Ferencsik – and our countless instrumental and vocal artists, Hungary has been and can be at the forefront of the musical world. As I said, I graduated as an opera singer and singing teacher from the Liszt Academy of Music in 1968. My excellent teachers gave me so many valuable pointers that I was later able to compete with my foreign colleagues in terms of my skills without shame. I was armed for the many, many unforgettable, tough "battles" to achieve my dream career. I wanted to live up to my vocation to serve the universal and Hungarian music culture at a world-class level. With a forty-five-year career behind me, I can safely say that I have achieved what I set out to do without bringing shame to my teachers or my country.               

At the Opera, at that time, there were countless excellent singers before me, and Director General Lukács did not hold out much hope for me. During the Opera's 1971 Moscow tour, our famous, outspoken singer told me: "Marton, why are you hanging around here? Why don't you f... off?". She was right. I took her advice and went to Frankfurt am Main.

In 1972, I was invited by Christoph von Dohnányi (Ernő Dohnányi's grandson) and joined the Oper Frankfurt. I left my country with a husband, a six-year-old child, two suitcases, a ‘steamer trunk’ full of sheet music and textbooks, and fifty German marks. In 1974, our little daughter, Diana, joined our family. In Frankfurt, we didn't leave anything to luck. If you know your own abilities, then almost everything depends on persistent, tireless work. In the words of Goethe: "Genie? Vielleicht nur Fleiss.” As for my ability to validate my skills, I was guided by the careful and precise help of my surgeon husband, Zoltán. 

At the time, the Frankfurt theatre was one of the best in Europe. The trio of Christoph von Dohnányi, Gerard Mortier and Peter Mario Katona led the company with excellence. The singers of different nationalities were first-rate. Soon, I was thrown into the deep end. The roles followed one after the other, in the original languages, of course. There were years when I had to learn ten or eleven complete operas. Music sheets and notes for memorization were hanging everywhere in our apartment. The work was worth it, and slowly, the good jobs in other theatres also came. My husband refused to let me perform in the so-called small opera houses despite the numerous offers I received. "The road to the top is much longer and bumpier from there", he always said. So, my first so-called "foreign" performance took place in April 1973 in Vienna with Tosca. To quote my husband, "Now let me see what you can do". I did not do badly at all. I got the chance to have a premiere in the autumn, singing Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's opera "Anyegin". From then on, there was no stopping me: Munich, Berlin, Madrid, and in 1975, I performed for the first time in the USA, in New York. At St. Patrick's Cathedral, I sang the soprano solo of the oratorio "The Way of Jesus" by Hovhaness and managed to do the oriental ornamentation in an ethereal voice. My conductor was László Halász, who was the director of the New York City Opera for many years. It all worked out, and I could sign for Eve of Wagner’s The Mastersingers for the 1976 Metropolitan Opera season with priority. This was followed by Brussels and then San Francisco, where I sang the role of Aida. The conductor of the evening was the Italian Gavazzini, who had conducted Don Carlos back in Hungary, where I sang the Voice from Heaven, a tiny little but extremely delicate role. When I started singing in rehearsal in San Francisco, he stopped the orchestra, pointed to me and said, "Signora Marton was the Voice from Heaven in Don Carlos in Budapest a few years ago. Ladies and gentlemen, that was a heavenly voice, indeed". The day after the premiere, the newspaper headlines read, "Marton on the top". 

I made my debut at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1978. It was the first time I sang the role of Leonora of Il Trovatore and the first time I performed at the Scala! It took much courage, but it never came to my mind as an option before the performance that I might fail. I worked hard, so I believed that the result would be there. Éva Székely, the famous Hungarian swimmer, said, "If you are well prepared for the Olympics, you must win!" The same "tunnel effect" developed in me as in her when she was able to exclude the horrors of war during her training. Although there's no comparison, I also exclude the outside world in the same manner so that only the play exists for me, and I can remain alone with the role. My husband and I had the tactic of trying these prominent roles only in the most significant opera houses first, where the best conditions were available in all areas. "You are programmed to be able to do everything", I heard my husband say almost daily. For example, this is how I first sang Venus and Elisabeth one evening in Bayreuth, Gioconda at the MET, Turandot and Elektra in Vienna. Due to Leonora's success, I was cast as Judith in the premiere of Duke Bluebeard's Castle in the autumn. My partner was György Melis, and the opera was conducted by Zoltán Peskó and directed by György Pressburger. It was the first time an opera was sung in Hungarian in La Scala, which was celebrating its 200th anniversary.

There was nothing to stop me. La Scala was followed by the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Chicago, Tokyo, Barcelona, Houston, Paris, London, Sydney, Bayreuth, Salzburg, Verona, the Carnegie Hall, the great concert halls and many more. I travelled the world, got to know many countries, cities and people, and promoted Hungary wherever possible. For example, in Bogotá, where I was invited to a concert, my records were played on the radio for weeks before and after my performance, and there were lectures about Hungary. As a thank-you gift, I received a bouquet from the Hungarian ambassador there, so big that we could hardly carry it to the hotel. Or when I was in Sao Paulo to meet the Hungarian colony at the Hungarian Benedictine high school, I had to drink a cup of pálinka with Father Don Emilio – God rest his soul – before my performance to calm him down. We took a suitcase full of news footage from Duna TV.

In the early 80s, I was already part of the elite singers and the network of the greatest artists. Around this time, I was reading a biography of the Italian baritone singer Tito Gobbi. I told my husband how interesting it was that I was going to the opera houses in the same order as Gobbi. "There are no coincidences," he said with a laugh, "thank God you're on the path of the great ones." During my wanderings, I have met countless colleagues, worked with the best conductors and directors, and got to know almost every major opera house and concert hall in the world. I gathered a great deal of experience, which is something that Hungarian artists have not really had the opportunity to do. I hoped that one day, I could use this to the benefit of our opera culture. "Errare humanum est" - to err is human, and there had been no demand for it in Hungary.

In the meantime, my relationship with the Hungarian music scene had not been severed, just somewhat rearranged. Invitations to the Opera were reduced to a minimum, but recordings took off. In the mid-1980s, my husband, the manager of CBS and the director of Hungaroton figured out that I wasn't working enough, so I should do some recordings, and that's when the CBS-Hungaroton co-production started. It was just in time because Hungaroton was in a slump, the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra had not fully recovered from the death of conductor Ferencsik, and the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra also benefited from the extra work. We started to record a series of operas with excellent conductors such as G. Patané, L. Gardelli, M. Tillson-Thomas, and A. Fischer. The singing stars of the world succeeded one another. Domingo, Carreras, Sherrill Milnes, and Samuel Ramey all came to Budapest, to name but a few. Recordings include Tosca, A. Cheniér, Fedora, Gioconda, Duke Bluebeard's Castle, as well as several concerts and solo albums.

Few opera singers have had the opportunity as I have had to explore the wonderful musical world of Puccini and Verdi, from the Baroque through Mozart and Beethoven, and to learn and interpret the stunning works of R. Strauss and Wagner. But I have also felt at home in Verismo, not to mention the works of Bartók and modern composers, or songs and orchestral pieces. I am also grateful to the one who has given me my talent; he must have loved me very much. I would quote my husband again: "God has blessed you with an exceptional talent; it is your duty to put it at the service of humanity, and we must do everything, everything we can to do so." I guess I'm not in debt to my benefactor.

During the last hours of Pope John Paul II, my husband and I were awake in front of the television. We respected and loved him as a man whose vocation was to be Pope and who, with his infinite love and humanity, won the respect even of the enemies of the Church. His last words, "segui me" - follow me - will never be forgotten. Actually, these words gave me the final push to come home and accept the invitation of Prof. Batta, the Rector of the Academy of Music. The circle is now complete. I returned to where I started, to my Alma Mater. Now I am a professor in the very room where I studied, jittered, and took exams, where everything that had the most significant impact on my later life happened. I am as strict with my students as I was with myself; they are used to the fact that results can only be achieved through hard, persistent work, and what I have achieved could also be achieved by them. At the beginning of each school year, I give a so-called "Sermon on the Mount" to my students, in which I explain what I consider to be essential, including clear, in-tune singing. My demands were initially not understood and sometimes met with extremely abusive reactions, especially on the internet. Still, we used our old slogan, "Lot, you just go and don't look back!" Things are better now; they are beginning to understand why I am asking what I ask. The essence of my teaching is that I don't want to see myself in them, but I want them to develop their own individuality.

Since I have been teaching, my artistic credo and my life motto have changed. In the first phase of my career, the beautiful opening line of the prayer from "Tosca" was my credo: "Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore", "I lived for my art, I lived for love", in the zenith of my career it changed for "if I succeeded, you can succeed", and now Kundry's words from Parsifal represent my motto: "Dienen, dienen" - "to serve, to serve". I have come home because I need to pass on everything I know. I have always seen my career as a gathering. I have a big backpack, which I have packed with experiences, observations, and knowledge over the years, and I would like to share all of these. I wish this backpack would be empty when I have to part with my life.     

Ladies and Gentlemen,

That's it in a nutshell. If you want more detailed information—as they say nowadays—visit the www.martoneva.hu website. 

I wish the beautiful and lofty plans of the Balassi Institute every success. May God give them strength for their work, and may the state give them the appropriate financial support. This investment will pay off, for sure. The road to the 'outside world' is no longer one-way; returning is possible anytime. 

Thank you for listening to me, yours, as always, Éva Marton.



Prof. emerita,  Dr. hab., Dr. h. c., Ks. Éva Marton                                                                             

Kossuth and Bartók-Pásztory prize-winning opera singer, Artist of the Nation, head of the Department of Vocal and Opera Studies as a university professor at the Liszt Academy of Music, holder of the Hungarian Corvin Chain Award, awardee of the Hungarian Order of Saint Stephen, life member and soloist of the Vienna State Opera, Eternal Member and Master Artist of the Hungarian State Opera, Honorary Doctor of the University of Szeged, regular member of the Hungarian Academy of Arts, member of the Friends of Hungary Foundation, Honorary Citizen of Ferencváros, Józsefváros and the City of Miskolc and Budapest, recipient of the Teatro Liceu in Barcelona and the Kennedy Center Gold Medal in the Arts awards and the Liszt Ring of the Liszt Academy of Music.

Lecture delivered at the Balassi Institute at the opening event of Campus Hungary on 15th January 2013.

Updated: 5th February 2024 in Budapest

Updated: 1st March 2024 in Budapest


                                                                                                Dr. Marton G., Zoltán