The Queen of the Opera: Eva Marton


I made my first interview with Eva Marton for many, many years ago, when I worked at the TV news. After the interview the staff packed up and went away. We had a long talk in a room of an elegant hotel on the bank of the Danube. Her husband, Zoltán joined us. We sipped champagne and we viewed the Chain Bridge and the Fisherman’s Bastion, which were in wonderful night lights. We completely agreed that Budapest is the most beautiful city of the world. For us – leastwise. We touched many topics, I don’t remember everything, but I don’t forget the feeling of that night. Whenever I meet with Eva Marton, it has been a pleasure for me since the first time. Only a few world stars are so unaffected artists like her. The photography, which is often circuitous in other cases, is a pleasure with her, too. Beside her talent and her diligence, her most important qualities are the serenity, the humor and the jollity. With whom you can talk about all kinds of womanly things after the most serious questions of her profession and the life.


The Flying Dutchman


Appropriately I could describe Eva Marton with this opera title, because her style of living has been the continuous travelling since many decades. She recently arrived at home from Barcelona, where she was a jury member of the Francisco Viñas International Singing Competition in the company of several excellent artists. She gave a concert on the eve of the competition and her colleagues humorously noticed: many young singers out of the 400 applicants will immediately pull out, when they hear her voice. In 1972, when Eva Marton made her debut at the Frankfurt Opera probably neither she nor her directorship didn’t think about such a great world career. Frankfurt honors her art very much: she opened the last season there. She sang the title role of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in two gala performances, both were tremendous successes. Recently she had a great success as Tosca in Tokyo, as a star guest of the Prague National Theater. She has already sung in the country of the rising sun, – among others – with the Warsaw Opera, too. It’s a strange situation: singing in Japan’s capital as a Hungarian diva with a Czech, than a Polish opera company. The question is evident: how many times do You change languages in such cases?

- I don’t speak many languages. I can speak in German, in English and in Italian. And what I don’t know, I look in the dictionary. I look mainly the technical terms.

- How it’s possible to play a protagonist role with a few rehearsals in a production of an unknown company?

- I got a video film of the production, I saw the scenery, I know where I have to enter and leave the stage, I know the moving on the stage – in our terms. I make notes and I travel to Tokyo in such a way that I know not only my role.


The memories of her career


Recently I asked her about her favorite objects. The selection was difficult, because the memories, what she got from her partners, her friends and her fans, crowd both her homes in Buda and in Monte Carlo. Her objects, even the simplest ones, have culture-historical significance, because these evoke excellent performances and world famous colleagues beside the operatic masterpieces.

- To throw out something – no go! Rather I tidy away those, from here to there, from there to here. The people favor me with lots of little things, which I preserve, because all of these are the sign of their love. If I’m fed up with one, I put it in a box, but it’s happen that I take out and – with the joy of the rediscovery – I put in a central place.

- Your plush-bear collecting passion is well-known, although now I see only one in the opposite armchair.

- He is Charlie von Chicago, because I got it in Chicago and he sits there because he waited my closest girlfriend in the summer, in the wedding of my daughter. Perhaps the “teddy bear mania” started 30 years ago with a mascot bear from my husband when we left Hungary. I can’t show it, because once it was stolen with a suitcase. During the numerous moving also my childhood doll was lost, this is why probably a doll is so kind for me, which is manually carved: I got it after a Tosca-performance in Brussels from one of my friends, “The Silly Belgian”. The nickname Silly is from a Hungarian romantic play, Mihály Vörösmarty’s Csongor and Tünde: the goodness and the kindness of our friend are so rarely nowadays, which is almost a silly thing for many people.

- You have sung with wonderful partners. You are close relationship and friendship with many famous artists. Let’s look the photo above (p. 7.)…

- During my career I truly had numerous world famous partners from La Scala in Milano to the Metropolitan in New York. This was made in a famous Turandot-performance in the Metropolitan. My friend, Birgit Nilsson was the greatest Turandot for decades. By the side of her there is Franco Zeffirelli, the conductor James Levine, Elisabeth Taylor and Placido Domingo. I tell a very interesting story about this evening. In the intermission Elisabeth Taylor knocked on my dressing room door. You must know about me that nobody dares to disturb me, in particular in such a demanding role, neither my husband, Zoltán. When I could get the opportunity to speak, the Hollywood movie star told me only that, not to worry, she won’t be a nuisance to me. She could sit silently in a chair, probably her fans let her alone at me. She took refuge in my dressing room.


The cultural diplomat


Beside Your name it is always emphasized that You are a Hungarian artist. You undertake it proudly from the very beginning, although You didn’t try Your luck in abroad because of the adequate recognition of Your talent…

It’s very important for me that I’m Hungarian and I can enhance the good reputation of my country and the Hungarian musicians. Perhaps only our scientists had greater success than our great musicians, but what is more surprising for me that Sándor Márai is widely known, especially in Italy, he led the popularity lists through many years. One of my friends in New York called my attention to his works and he has been one of my favorites since then. If I go wherever, I always gift Márai’s books for my friends. I try to propagate the Hungarian culture in this way. Sometimes the salesmen are surprised very much that I buy many copies of a book. Newly, in my premier in Madrid I gave Márai’s books in beautiful packaging to my colleagues, too.

- And now about another premier: recently You played Manon Lescaut in Frankfurt in a modern scenery and in modern costumes. Wasn’t it strange a little bit?

Perhaps the new conception, the modern costumes can facilitate the reception, because the performance won’t be so alien, so museum-like. I like the clever reinterpretations very much, if a director has a good conception. In such cases many further, unknown values outcrop. We don’t have to insist rigidly on the old forms. The audience could expect something similar in the new Lohengrin-premier on May 2 in the Erkel Theater (Budapest).


The Professor


Now one of the most valuable “treasures” of Your home at Pasarét (a part of the 2nd district of Budapest) is a honorary diploma, which is in the living room, over the piano. This is Your appointment as a honorary professor of the Franz Liszt Academy-University of Music. In the history of the famous institute this honor was given only to 30 artists. Eva Marton is the first singer and the second woman after Annie Fischer. She gives master classes in her former alma mater, where she would like to do her best in the preparation of the future singers. I don’t know her as an educator, but beside her immense knowledge and her professional experiences she may have the necessary ability for the teaching, too. In the mentioned singing competition of Barcelona her colleagues entrusted the verbal assessment to her not by chance. Because Eva Marton can tell the young artists their fault in such a way that she doesn’t hurt their self-esteem in no shape, but they can learn from the criticism.

 - I always tell in my master classes, what I have reached, it can be reachable by everyone with the necessary work.

- What is Your most important advice before a performance?

The most important thing that I don’t speak a lot, I don’t give such a long interview – she tells jocularly –, but at least it has similar importance that I don’t overburden my body, I don’t eat heavy foods. It can do me no harm if I relax before, if I have a quiescent night before and I feel sure of myself. If I do my very best, it will be fruitful. After all I have only a very happy expectation that above all, what I told you, what I can add to my interpretation.


The weekdays of a world star


We drink coffee in a winter garden-like jutting part of the living room. The sunbeams shine into the green of the plants. These are pleasing, but these are cruelly revealing, too. I observe Eva’s face. It’s soft like the velvet without any cream. She understands my searching eye without any question.

This is genetics. Of course, I take care of it, because I have very much make-up on me during the performances. I use Japanese products, these are expensive, but I think these are the best. I have never been under the knife, but it’s sure it will happen. If I can’t stand to look myself in the mirror, I won’t resist, but I try to extrude this time as far as possible with creams.

- Your husband, Zoltán has become Your manager after her three-decade-long career as a surgeon.

He did these two, very hard works also previously for many years. When both of our children left home, we thought that we lived separately enough time, so we would like to spend our life together. We are after our 38th wedding anniversary and in the biggest part of my life I was far from him. I wake up alone, I went to bed alone – I suffered very much from this, because he could travelled only to the premiers. It’s a wonderful feeling that now we are locked up together from morning to night. After such a long time the couples usually fed up with each other. And for us it’s realized just now that we can enjoy the permanent togetherness. To wake together, to ask the other: “how did you sleep?” – It’s possible that it’s banal, but I missed it awfully.

- Who is the ministry of fiancé at Your home?


- And how do the finances function? Do You get some spending-money?

I have a bank card; I spend money at my discretion.

- Can You tell me about this! A simple man could think that a world star can indulge in everything and buy whatever, Dior, Chanel, the most expensive brands…

I have never thrown my money around. If I have some free time, I buy what it’s necessary, perhaps many things, but who knows when I’ll have the next chance? My favorite shops are principally in Hamburg and in Berlin. I have never spent much money for the clothes: I buy only that, which is really necessary. I have more attention to the shoes. In the private life I wear jeans, a simple pullover, a moccasin, what I like very much. I often go out in sneakers; I enjoy the new fashion just as the leather jackets. If there is an important event, I wear suit. I don’t have too much care with the nights; if I don’t have a performance, I leave home only in exceptional cases. With our friends we go to restaurant now and then, but I don’t like to speak loudly in a smoky place, where it’s hardly possible to talk down the others. Guests come very rarely to me. I cook myself in such cases. It isn’t a boast that they always leave contentedly. 

- This isn’t so widely known about You.

I usually ask, who what likes, avoiding the embarrassing situations. I try to cook delicious, but healthy foods. Recently we had six guests; they ordered Chinese meals. I made an interesting composition from chicken, after that I did flitch of bacon with ginger, what I soused in a sweet-sour liquid, then I cooked it with garlic in the oven. I could tell you, it was very delicious.

- If You were my guest, what would You order?

Layered cabbage or a simple bean soup, or perhaps paprika chicken. One of my very favorites is the escalopes of veal, but I eat it only in hotels, because I hate to cook it at home. With Zoltán we eat in a very simple manner at home. In most cases we eat salad, which I serve like the Italians. And there is a light meat, for example turkey bust. My husband likes the vegetable-dishes, what I cook gladly and – principally – quickly. We have regular haunts in abroad, what we like and we don’t change these. In Landon once we was invited to a Chinese restaurant, where the guests eat in the kitchen at a long table! The meals were cooked before our very eyes. This was very magical, not to mention that we saw the ingredients of these foods.

- Who likes cooking, he or she usually likes to go to the markets, too.

Except me, because I think it’s a waste of time. Well, all the housework is thankless, because it seems only for a short time. Dusting, washing, cooking – you do it and you could start all again. For a long time during the ironing I learnt my roles. I looked the score and I did the ironing. I iron the more delicate clothes, shirts and waists even now, I don’t entrust these to others.

- You spend the greatest part of Your time in Monte Carlo. Your villa is practicably a guest house, although Your adult children live there with their own families.

There was a time when we had four flats. I searched one of my shoes, as it turned out, it wasn’t there; my bag was there and etc. It was occurred that I bought four pieces out of my favorite clothes because of I could wear those whenever I like. With this I am less “Flying Dutchman”.

- We have already talked about the literature apropos of Márai. Beside several other books, every book of Márai, which were published in Hungary, lines up here, in the bedroom. When do You have any time for reading beside Your many activities?

If I fly and I do it very often, I take newspapers and books with me. Sometimes I read a novel during a 12-hour-long travelling. But I find time for reading at home, too. Every day I read every important newspaper: I would like to know what happens in the world. I don’t politicize, because I think an artist has to live for the art, not for the politics. We don’t have to serve a political party, but we have to serve our country. These aren’t idle words. Of course, the politicians should have to do this, too. I’m sad that it doesn’t work now. 


Roles and tears


- It was an unforgettable experience, when the tears brimmed Your eyes in the premier of Max Bruch’s Moses in the Jewish Summer Festival in Budapest.

- I sang the Angel of the Lord in this oratorio. In the end of the work there is a wonderful aria, a lament. Its message is that, what the Jewish people have to do for the survival. Many things crossed my mind that time and I deeply felt for every kind of the human suffering. I sang in the Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest for the first time, but when I studied in the Music Academy, I often sung in the masses of Haydn and Mozart in the Matthias Church. In the St. Stephan’s Basilica I sang in Liszt’s Coronation Mass and in America I debuted also in a church, too. It was in 1975, in the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. Alan Hovhaness’s The Way of Jesus had a very special effect with its oriental instrumentation. Otherwise, the church music isn’t theatrical, it’s more inward. It’s a music which can deeply touch our souls, especially in a consecrated place, in a church. There are some situations, when you can’t hold back your tears, but I think it isn’t necessary. In the end ofMoses I just sat silently and I thought it’s a very great blessing that both of us are together…


Artistic public activity


Eva Marton has just arrived in Budapest and she has several appearances here. She has a Gershwin-concert in the Music Academy and the premier of Janáček's Jenůfa in Czech language in the Hungarian State Opera. After the premier she gives a Schönberg-Wagner-concert with the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of its artistic director, Zoltán Kocsis. Then she’ll participate in the general assembly of the Hungarian Richard Wagner Society as a patron and she prepares at full stretch for the premier of Lohengrin on 2 May in the direction of the composer’s great-granddaughter, Katharina Wagner in the Erkel Theater. And – last but not least – she organizes the Bartók+Tschaikowski series from 11 to 26 July as the artistic director of the International Opera Festival of Miskolc. She tirelessly promotes the festival both in Hungary and in abroad. As a cultural diplomat she would like to realize very much that the Miskolc Opera Festival would be as prestigious as the Western European festivals, like Salzburg, Bayreuth and Munich. Beside her world famous musician colleagues she builds on those artists, who aren’t widely known because of not their talents, but because of their wanting management. What she has created for own myself, now she generously gives back to her loved profession. Gently, elegantly, without any fuss. But – all the more – decidedly. And how I know her, she will do it…


                                                                                          Budapest, February 24, 2004

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