Who cannot lose…

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Eva Marton: I have lived my life for Love and Art

We have never met. I know her recordings, I have seen her on stage several times, I have met some of her world famous partners, I have had a coffee with her love of her life, but never with her. I wanted to make a show with her (almost did it), I have read everything had been written about her, we have passed by each other on the streets of Wien as well as in New York, and now I am waiting for her in Budapest. I also know that she is never late, but still now she arrives in 60 seconds late and ask my forgiveness as she had something to do. She is organizing, teaching and dreaming. She has no rest, not for a moment. Because being Eva Marton is: obligation. She is not even sited yet, and already she starts to tell me her planes for the next five, ten, twenty, hundreds of years. Let us however not forget how much has been done the last five, ten, twenty or how many years of hers.

Eva Marton (maiden name: Éva Heinrich) is the Artist of the Nation (Hungarian Nation), Kossuth- and Bartók-Pásztory Prize winner Hungarian soprano, lifetime member and Kammersängerin of the Vienna Staatsoper, professor emerita of Franz Liszt Academy of Music, owner of Corvin Chain, a full member of Hungarian Academy of Arts (MMA). She debuted in the Hungarian State Opera and her international career started in Frankfurt in 1972. She sang at the Metropolitan in 1976 for the first time, then she conquered Wien, London and La Scala in Milan. Her last operatic performance was in 2011, she sang Gertrudis in Bánk bán. The First Eva Marton International Singing Competition was in 2014.

-  I am working in three places. More over these are the most beautiful places of the city. The Franz List Academy of Music is one of the important stops, as I came home to Hungary for teaching. I have five students, and I will take them to the degree.  As I have new tasks, I will not accept new student – unless it will be a Caruso… Second stop is the counsellorship of the opera - next beautiful place. I am not interfering with the repertoire or the program, I am just eyes and ears, I am visiting the performances and in case I see something that could be better I refer to our director, Szilvester Ókovács. Last time I have draw (among others) his attention such talented directors with new prospective. Furthermore, we are sitting not far from our third beautiful place, the Vigadó, the place of my newest work as a member of the president council of the Hungarian Art Academy, so I will not work anymore as department leader. 

- It seems to me - staying with the number of the tales like three – always three goddess. three beautiful but pretentious goddess followed your path…

- Which three?

- Love, Art, and Service.

- This is brief but exact.

- You were only an art student, with big intention that you going to become a singer when love passed your way, an than love took you forward to art, but neither love, nor art can be fulfilled without service…

- I am maybe lucky?

- … And as you know already know a lot about love and art, so now you nominate our life for service…

- I don’t know everything about any of them, but I do enough to have something to teach. I am living in the present always, and I am working for the future.

- Did you live in the present back then, when you grew up in Ferencváros (8th district of Budapest). Did you know what is waiting for you? Did you have any picture of your future?

- I would lie if I would say I knew or even suspected any of this. We only plane and work for it, dream, but what we will become no one knows. It would be easy to be smart now, we could play with the thoughts “What would happened if…”,  but there is no point of it. I don’t stand this; I like facts, what happened. And it happened, and it is good like that. I am thankful to the fate, for what I have become. Of course for this beside my job, I needed to be surrounded with the right people. Yes, I did meet the right people.

- But you were not always on the right place, as you grew up behind the iron curtain…time was not always good either. Timing was not good always either, as you had to leave in order to be able to grow to the sky. And also I guess there were as many bad people around you than right. How did you manage to avoid them?

- I did not avoid them, I left them; we left them.  The plural is on purpose. I am the kind of person that I always discuss my problems with my husband. I never buried anything, nor success nor failure, we discussed it open with Zoli, I always asked for his advice.

- … originally he is a surgeon he knows where to cut…

- …and a fine man.  And also he has played football, so comes from a society where people say what they mean. So on that night when I have met him in that doctor counseling room, I got not only a popular handsome man, a playboy, who knew the night life, but also I got along with him huge amount of experiments, so I got an honest man who turned everything he knew to my advantage. We decided always together, I asked for his opinion and advice, he was brave enough to tell me and I had the courage to listen to it. In the end this is the base of a good relationship for life long, we are never alone, if we are honest to each other…

- As Tosca sings: I have lived for love, I have lived for art…, Tosca is an actress as well as you are and also she is not only the voice of heaven, “the” dramatic soprano for decades in the world as you, but also changing on the stage evening to evening, keeper of an important secret. Woman. Actress. All your characters were strong, filled with secret and passion, dying in it…

- This is what opera means, extreme passion, which only music can interpret. We would not be able to live our everyday life with the ice cold passion of Turandot, with the extreme hate of Elektra, or with the self destroying hunger for love of Salome. It would destroy us all. But music makes it possible, even if a libretto is not that good, music will speak instead of the text. To be able to perform these on stage requires the same honesty that for example we have had with Zoli during our life.

- But this knowledge has to be collected. By the time 1972, when you left as there was no bearable future here, did you have this knowledge back then? Stay with Tosca, were you ever thinking to choose between love and career? 

- Puccini knew that there is no choice. He knew it and writes it, that love and art cannot be parted. But Tosca is a key role in my life, her pair in the opera, Cavaradossi the art loving restaurateur, has noble origin, for whom art is only a pleasure. He is also younger then Tosca, the famous actress, who came from a simple family, and there was nothing for her except her talent to lift her above the crowd. Only for the record I was waiting so long to have a younger tenor on stage, so it happens that the actual act is about… So there are two people. They are coming from different classes, they are not on the same level, but they rich the same because the talent of the women and love makes them.

- …And then back to 1972, back to choosing, quoting László Németh, the real fate will not demand sacrifices , will not make you choose…

- Truly beautiful. I did not know it, but I have lived it, we have. There was no crossroads; there was no question how we should decide. Of course it does not mean it was easy. At that time my husband was already a doctor, we already had our first child, and then the new regulation came in the opera house that there cannot be longer contracts than one year, so everyone should be kept in insecurity. There was a long line before me with good names in it, who has to be roles given. I was not even among the members of the party, so I did not have the opportunity use this channel, and seriously there were many famous singers at that time in Budapest, so I see no future for myself here. My director agreed with me, so we had to make our decision with Zoli. How interesting destiny is, at that time I have sung for Christoph von Dohnányi, and he offered a role for me. More over it was not only a role but a contract as well. The needed the “fach” I have sung in.

- … only to add to it, this voice of yours, you never thrown away, you did not run forward with the roles, like so many soprano…

- You see, luck again, or real destiny. I have had a very-very nice child voice; the change of voice has ruined it for me. I have lost the peak of it, and shortened significantly.  The fact that I have only ten-twelve ton to use, I fell into depression, however I did not know the word… I was sad, upon that the old ability has gone. By that time I got into a great company, I started playing volleyball. This group started to form me, I have learned a lot from them, while slowly my voice came back, however it should not be pushed. Fortunately.  This is the reason I did not took the roles not suited for me, as the tone cannot be forced to end of its limits during the practices for long hours. However many does this mistake for the career. I did not have enough patience, and I did fall for my fach: I managed to change from the lyric spinto into a dramatic soprano.  But for this I had to have a lot of staidness, and a lot of patience. If a role does not sit into the throat of the actress, then it will never be able to bear the stress of the career. 

- …Which career started toward word fame in Frankfurt in 1972 with a Falstaff premier… with a husband, who was a doctor, who had no job at that time, with a small child…

- … with a small child, who had to go to school, … with a contract that promised future, with a flat we got temporarily, for three month…

- … Meanwhile you had to act like everything is going in the right way…

- I had to, then and ever since. I was working like that always. Your sailing cannot depend on the wind, as Zoli always says. I lived like that always. Like I did not speak German, I did a little of Russian and Latin, while I had to sing Tatjana or the Countess in German, since only the Italian repertoire went on original language. That repertoire I only sung in Hungarian here at home. I was not afraid, I felt secure on the side of my husband, and my child the routine of the every day, continuously working new and new roles, I did not have any time to be afraid, to be worried. I had to work instead of agony. I may say I have lived my life up to now without fear. It had happened that our plane had to make a forced landing, we were holding each other hands and we knew there will not any problem. You cannot live nor work with fear in your hearth. My couch told me this back in the Petőfi Club: If we are prepared well, after an honest work we go on the field, we my loose, but never feel fear or ashamed.

- Have you ever felt during your career, that however I am prepared well I lost this mach?

- Never. It had happened once that I was singing Chrysothemis to a record, while I was conducted by, the later become friend, Klaus Tennstedt, who were angry about the I would need to sing Elektra … and nothing came out if the whole thing… but I was profiting from it: friendship with the conductor, a fine Fidelio-premier in the MET with him years later, for what I had to cancel another Turandot-premier in La Scala … Do you know how magnificent feeling when two opera house more over two country fight for you the sing for them? And there was I think once a performance I should have not accept, as I was not able, and no one would be able to accept the concept. But getting back to the original question, no, I did not feel being a loser at any time, I was not part of a lost mach, I was not afraid ever. I do not feel fear nowadays either. Otherwise I would not accept the membership of the presidency of the art academy. If someone wants to block my freedom, I never let them. I could tell you some cases, too. This is a characteristic of my career. I do what I like. I am not forced. I don’t know from where I bring it: from home, from Ferencváros (8th district of Budapest), from my volleyball team, from the love of my husband and my children or from the legendary Hungarian love of justice, what recently seems to shame for ones. Why anybody would like to control my sense of justice referring to political, artistic or human reasons. We have to accept the orders, but it doesn’t mean that I can prescribe the conviction and the moral for others.

- Is a world career possible without any compromise, “only” with talent and work?

- You always have to accept compromises. You can’t go to the jungle with a bush-cutter knife and you can’t go on before the waves. The truth could have more versions – and there are more way to the truth! I’m not a die-hard. I have never been that. I take account the arguments and the cons from everybody, but I don’t let to suppress my inner strength.

- Is this has reference to your colleagues? I didn’t think that the operatic star-world is gracious…

- When I started with the legendary great artists for the first time, I was a beginner. I had to adapt. When I first sang Tosca at La Scala, he was great and I was only an entrant. There was some differences of our ages. My situation with Domingo is almost the same. Carreras is in my age, but these one or two year differences are the part of the playing, these aren’t important. The important thing is that suddenly I was beside them. It means that the team, like a touring team was in good order. We formed a real team for the performance series: there were – among others – Aragall, Bonisolli, Giacomini… same persons, same voices. In that time not one star was in one night, but star singers were engaged for every protagonist role, beside the tenor and the soprano there we Wixell, Diaz, Cappuccilli, Obraztsova, Cossotto, Gruberova and the other genius. Perhaps the last golden age was the seventies and the eighties.

- Who were the most determinant persons in this team-work: the singers, the conductors or the stage directors?

- I don’t think that I can separate them. This is such a unity which disintegrates in one point, it will be a failure. My husband and friend, Zoli, who didn’t work as a doctor in the zenith of my career, has become my utility man, my agent and my sword-bearer. He paid attention to that, I could get the best orchestras, the best conductors, the best partners and the best audiences. Of course, the team-work is difficult. There are some attacks and indispositions, maybe the audience is incited or the director deals with his own personality instead of the score and the text. So, that is why the compromises are necessary. So you can realize that you can meet the requirements of the great conductors, you can enjoy the stage creations of the great directors and you can gladly hold the last notes of a duet with the great tenors, whom I worked together. But I have to tell frankly that I was most inspired by the great directors. There were and there are only few great (not successful!) conductors, who are great musicians. Who are really interested in the substances of the characters, they are the great directors: they always led me to new ways and new discoveries. The task of the conductor is the Werktreue, the absolute fidelity in the work and the score, but the directors have the liberty to re-dream the work. I’m sure that this duality is the essence of the opera interpretation. If the their task replaces each other, there are bad results… There are some operas, which stand against the re-interpretation: I could play in the exciting variations of the Elektra, but the Turandot can’t bear the modernization… I have never forget that in Nice I sang Turandot’s aria “In questa reggia” in the top of a piano, with cigarette in my hand as Marlene Dietrich, in the vision of a German directress and a German conductor. It was a nightmare… I’m not against the modernity: I enjoyed playing in Konwitschny’s Lohengrin, which was transformed into a school. I can mention also the Jenůfa in Hamburg, where the shame, the common stone, the common sin outgrew from the ground. I don’t like only the misinterpretations, the forced ideas and the spiritual sloth on the stage.

- You sang your roles in different conceptions. There are singers who sing everything in the same way. In contrast with them you are always willing to re-live your roles.

- If a stage director can convince me and he has interesting and new ideas, I gladly re-dream my roles, like Tosca (what I sang in the vicinity of 250 times) with him. For example Jonathan Miller transformed Tosca’s plat into the Second World War. Scarpia became a disgusting, impotent shoe fetishist (last but not least from the sight of my civil shoes…). The lines of force of the work have become more evident and the contours have become more pointed. Nothing has lost in the work. I like this, mainly such great singers like Giuseppe Giacomini and Justino Diaz. Fortunately, aside from the Turandot in Nizza, I have never had to forced myself and participate in such productions, which totally turned the message inside out. We always consciously avoided such productions. We saw, how many colleagues suffered in such productions.

- Tosca, Turandot, Elektra, Salome, Leonora, Desdemona: Puccini, Richard Strauss, Verdi. Ant the verismo, first of all La Gioconda. I associate you with these roles. They are fantastic women, who have astonishingly extreme feelings. All of them brave the elements like you when you left your homeland, when you showed an alternative of the stagnation, when you had world success for long decades as a Hungarian singer.

- There are huge extremities in the operas. Verdi built beautifully, Puccini was more courageous, Richard Strauss was able to huge jumping and the composers of the Verismo live and make me live such extremities, what we don’t dare to think and undertake everyday, in the real life. If we have to live it day to day, we could go to ruin. I remember when we rehearsed Elektra with Harry Kupfer for weeks, I was almost sick due to the emotional journey. Gioconda is very difficult vocally, but emotionally it’s easier.

- You also know that in fact I didn’t ask you about your roles? I would like to know that how you could live and retain your fantastic, delightful and career in harmony.

- I can answer with some very simple sentence. The first: I have never given up my personality. The second: I have never been forced to do this, because they knew that it would be a failure. The third: we have loved with Zoli each other. He has been such a companion, which is not given to everyone. The most important thing is the continuity: we weren’t on holiday through 29 years. We always saw five-four years in advance and we have never got out. Our family, four persons: we don’t hold on to each other. We have been “only” together since 51 years. I emphasize that we simply and solely love each other. If you ask me if I did something in other way, I would answer: No. If the God asked me to start again under the same conditions, I would answer: Come on! Together! In the same way!

It’s enough. And they start, Eva and Zoli. The one of the greatest sopranos of the world and her only lover, who is the witness and the smith of her every minute. They ate their dinner then they play a backgammon party in the afternoon. Perhaps, maybe there will be more parties. They play until Eva wins. Eva can’t loose. She has never could loose. It’s all for the best.

Gábor Bányai

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