The Master Street at the Metropolitan

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I don’t know what the headmistress of the music school in Mester Street thought around the midst of the fifties, when a little girl, who started losing her milk teeth, knocked to her room and announced humbly, but resolutely that she would like to learn to play piano. Probably she liked this kind of self-determination, but the future didn’t come up in her mind. Hardly two decades later this girl will be a celebrated star of the most important opera stages, a worthy owner of countless valuable prizes (among them the Kossuth Prize), because of whom firemen have to be flung beside the security guards in many theaters: she had so great successes that the audience would destroy the theater. Telegraphically this would be Eva Marton’s career, but fortunately the age of the telegrams finished, so we can get acquainted with the greatest Hungarian diva of the recent decades in details, and – believe it – it will be very interesting.

 

- Did You always plan to become an opera singer with such kind of self-determination, that seems from this application to the music school?

- The most 10-year-old girls indulge in daydreaming about having a career as a famous mannequin, a film actress or a ballerina. I didn’t draw in my childhood that I would be an opera singer whatever happens, but it’s a fact that I performed wherever and whenever with pleasure. If there was a cricket near at hand, I stood up and I sang. Then in the primary school my singing teacher attracted the attention of this and told me, if I like to deal with the singing seriously, I have to learn to play piano and I have to learn solfège, because I can acquire the basic knowledge only in this way. In addition I had another motivation, too. Tibor Udvardy, a famous tenor of that age, lived in the next house. He was a very kind, open person; he always wore very elegant clothes and the people greeted him in the street and we, the children, while we was playing in the park between the two houses, through the opened window we listened his practice with a great pleasure. I thought what a magnificent thing could be the life of  an opera singer! Then, long after my childhood, when we sang together in Das Rheingold, we recalled this memory and he told that he always thought that I will be a ballerina because of my stature of my moving. So, subsequently I am happy that it hasn’t been realized.

- I think, every opera lover takes delight in this, but fortunately You “sang yourself” into the Music Academy and – regarding Your career – You had a direct way to become a world famous diva.

- If it had been so simple! There was incredibly lots of work before my stage debut! I got married during my studies in the Music Academy, soon after I became a mother in that manner, that I could do only the changing the baby and the learning my roles in that period. Don’t get me wrong, I am miles from complaining, because it was a wonderful, unrepeatable period and – in the field of my career – I could establish my future, because I could sing as a partner of great singers, for example in the Open Air Festival of Szeged and the Open Air Theater of Margaret Island, too.

- Later, not so long after Your graduation, You had great successes as a member of one of the best opera stages of Europe.

- Well, Christiph von Dohnányi, the director of Frankfurt Opera, asked me and I signed the offered contract with pleasure. I was a member of a truly professional team there, I worked together with excellent partners and directors and I got numerous wonderful roles. Later I followed von Dohnányi to Hamburg, then in 1980 I “set up for myself”. Since then, as a freelancer I have sung with true world stars in the most famous opera houses and concert halls. The three tenors (Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras), Birgit Nilsson, Tito Gobbi, Renato Bruson and I could enumerate the other excellent partners. I am proud of that I could sing in the productions of Franco Zeffirelli, Giancarlo del Monaco, Götz Friedrich with such great conductors like Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, James Levine, Claudio Abbado, Sir Georg Solti…

- Talking about the world stars, I have to ask, why the true world-class artists can rise among the numerous excellent singers.

- It’s difficult to answer briefly, but several things “have to fit” for a real world career. Of course, the necessary basic abilities, the persistency and incredible working capacity have prime importance and then “the fortune-factor” comes: being in good place in good time, singing in the best form and the presence of an acknowledged manager, an opera director or a head-hunter specialized for discovering talents in the audience. In this case there are ideal conditions for such an engagement, by which you can get into such a circle, where only the bests can remain. Otherwise, that is a characteristic of the true world-class singers that they are able for maximum output for many decades and they can sing on the same high level both in a provincial community centre and in La Scala in Milano.

- In Your case there was another important condition, because You would have been a mannequin of a great fashion house if You hadn’t chose the operatic career. The opera lovers often have to experience that beside a wonderful vocal production they see a paunchy Manrico or a Tosca, who weighs 150 kg on the stage. Evidently it’s a substantially greater experience for the audience if a protagonist role is sung by such a singer, about whom Verdi or Puccini dreamt.

- I can state it with conviction that the voice is the most important in the case of an opera singer. Of course, it’s a great advantage if it is combined with a pleasing appearance, but without the required singing knowledge the most beautiful persons would be unsuccessful on stage. In this regard I was lucky, because thanks to my parents and the God, beside my vocal abilities I have good looks. I don’t state that it didn’t help a lot in my career, but – I emphasize once again – I wouldn’t have reached anything without the required vocal abilities.

- A wonderful and successful woman doesn’t get away the continuous siege of the fans…

- It’s evident, but my husband was always with me and if it was necessary, he “put the immoderately importunate admirers in their place”. Once I substituted another soprano in Tosca in Milano with Pavarotti. I almost tumbled into the dress rehearsal and during the first act I couldn’t account for that, why the king of the tenors was continuously holding my clothes back and he tugged and pulled at me back and forth. In the interval I wanted to call him to account that I didn’t bear this kind of importunate attitude even from such a great star. He laughed that he held my clothes and he pulled at me, because he prevented me from turning back: the costume was too wide for me and my entire back was visible. Otherwise, with him and with several world famous colleagues I have been in companionship. When I sang in New York, I played basketball with Placido Domingo in the basement of the Metropolitan and on another occasion we lived in a same house with Luciano Pavarotti and he often phoned me to invite for spaghetti. We often went to him with pleasure with my husband and the great Pavarotti received us in an apron, with a wooden spoon in his hands.

- Traversing Your life, the “increasing” period in less prestigious opera stages, which is necessary for every artists, is practically missing from Your career. You immediately got to the elite: You developed Your talent in the most internationally acknowledged stages, as a partner of world stars. Many artists had drowned, if they would have been thrown into the midst of the deep see.

- Well, also I was trembling all over, when I realized that I sing on the stage as a partner of such stars, whom I admired from far and that I can sing in such theaters, where I couldn’t get not even as a spectator. But all this inspired me very much and I could overcome that I was deeply moved and I learnt a lot from several excellent artists.

- For a long time You lived in abroad, while You toured around the world. But You returned home a few years ago and Your “full time job” is teaching young talents as a department head of the Music Academy. What was the reason of Your returning, because there weren’t any break in Your career: Your calendar was full up and You remained a celebrated star.

- That’s true, I got about a great deal, for example I lived more than one and a half decade in Monte Carlo, where from the window I could see the infinite see and the rounds of the Formula 1, because the racing cars roared along in front of our house, but after a while there were an ear-splitting noise, a terrible fume of benzene and a huge crowd, which swarms in to the environs, so after few years during the rounds we went away to relax to a distant, calm gfgplace. Well, I lived in abroad and I continuously toured around the world. I didn’t have any problem, but the years have gone by, and after a while you have to take your life into account, you have to accept that you couldn’t take on so much than one or two decades ago, because it could be to the detriment of the quality, what I am never unready to reduce not on any account. I had to think over also that a vast number of my experiences, which I collected during the last four decades, couldn’t vanish in the end of my career. Rather I would like to give these to the talented young singers. And then Dr. András Batta, the excellent musicologist, who became the rector of the Music Academy at that time, invited me to teach. Through many years I “took much persuading”, then I undertook it and now I examine there, in the boardroom, which is redolent with age. The paintings from the great personalities of the Hungarian music and the piano of Béla Bartók create a unique atmosphere here.

- You have returned and You teach, but it doesn’t mean that You go slow: You have some performances beside Your students and Your activity in the Singing and Opera Department. Don’t the quietness and the relaxation miss for You?

- Don’t think that it isn’t trying and onerous for me that I do so many things, because if you would like it, you can find time for the rest, for the relaxation. One of the greatest gifts of my life is that: my husband stands beside me. He is much more for me than a husband. We have been together almost since our childhood and I love her so much as four decades before. I think, both of us realized that in a relationship none of us could take a backseat because of  the other’s will or could try to form the other to his or her own idea. If both of them are enough intelligent, they can make a compromise, in which neither of their personalities suffer injuries. This is the voluntary and conscious adaptability. My husband comes with me everywhere, he follows through the rehearsals and the performances and if we are at home, I cheer on with him if there is a football match. The biggest contrast between us is that he cheers for Dortmund and I cheer for Bayern Munich.

- I personally experienced that Your students loves You. During our talking, three of them knocked here and they spoke in such a familiar, open manner, but with an evident respect to You, which exists only in the best teacher-student relationships.

- I am glad that this seems also for a third person, because I’m really in a very good relationship with my students. Perhaps, the reason of this could be that I have never tried to force my will on them, but I would much rather achieve that, they could understand what I would like from them and they wake up by themselves that this is really good as we talked over.

- Well, besides the teaching You haven’t retired from the active singing. What are Your plans in the future?

- I am far from the full withdrawal, because – in a certain sense, after all – the singing is my life. Of course, I don’t undertake so many performances than twenty or thirty years before, but I have some performances in this year, too. The singing is truly similar to the life. If you can’t enjoy it, why do you do it? But I can still enjoy it very much.

 

Photos:

Front page, p. 6., p. 10 Eva Marton

p. 11. Gioconda. New York, Metropolitan, 1982.

p. 12. In the title role of Richard Strauss’s Elektra in the Royal Opera House of London’s Covent Garden in 1990

p. 13. As Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Siegfried in San Francisco in 1884

p. 14. With Luciano Pavarotti in Il trovatore in 1987 on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York

p. 15. With Placido Domingo in Tosca. Houston, Grand Opera, 1984.

p. 17. In the Franz Liszt Academy-University of Music

 

                                                                                                                Antal Szabó

                                                               (DélUtán magazin. Vol. VII., 2009. March, p. 10-17.)

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