Soprano  Eva  Marton

Two Conversations with Bruce Duffie


Eva Marton (born in Budapest June 18, 1943) is a Hungarian dramatic soprano, particularly known for her operatic portrayals of Puccini's Turandot and Tosca, and Wagnerian roles.

She studied voice at the Franz Liszt Academy. She made her professional debut as Kate Pinkerton in Puccini's Madama Butterfly at Hungary's Margaret Island summer festival. At the Hungarian State Opera, she made her debut as Queen of Shemaka in Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel in 1968.

In 1972, she was invited by Christoph von Dohnányi to make her debut as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro at the Frankfurt Opera. That same year, she sang Matilde in Rossini's William Tell in Florence, conducted by Riccardo Muti. She also returned to Budapest to sing Odabella in Verdi's Attila. In 1973, Marton made her debut at the Vienna State Opera in Puccini's Tosca. In 1977, she sang at the Hamburg State Opera, in the role of the Empress in Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten, and made her San Francisco Opera debut in the title role of Verdi's Aïda. In 1978, Marton made her debut at La Scala in Milan as Leonora in Verdi's Il trovatore. She debuted at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1979 as Maddalena in Giordano's Andrea Chénier.

In 1981, she performed at the Munich Opera Festival in the title role of Die ägyptische Helena by Strauss, Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting. She sang the role of Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio in 1982 and 1983, both performances conducted by Lorin Maazel.

In 1976, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in New York in the role of Eva in Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. At the Bayreuth Festival she sang both Elisabeth and Venus in Tannhäuser in 1977-1978. Marton later became a frequent interpreter of the role of Brünnhilde in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. She performed in the complete Zubin Mehta-led Ring cycle at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1996. In 1998, she appeared in a new production of Lohengrin at the Hamburg State Opera, portraying Ortrud.

Marton first sang the title role of Puccini's last opera, Turandot, at the Vienna State Opera in 1983. It became a role with which she has been closely identified. Since 1983, she has performed the role over a hundred times including at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Arena di Verona, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington Opera, Opera Company of Boston under Sarah Caldwell (in 1983), Barcelona, and Houston Grand Opera. She has also portrayed Turandot in six television and video productions, including a Vienna State Opera production directed by Harold Prince, a Metropolitan Opera production created by Franco Zeffirelli production and a production designed by David Hockney filmed at the San Francisco Opera. She also sang the role at the Aurora Opera house in Gozo, Malta. She has recorded Turandot twice (audio CD), conducted first by Lorin Maazel and later Roberto Abbado.


See my interviews with Paul Plishka, and Margaret Price

Marton's new roles in this millennium include Isolde in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde at Hamburg State Opera in 2000, and Kundry in Parsifal in Barcelona and Lisbon in 2001. In 2006 and 2007, she performed in a concert version of Giordano's Fedora at the Miskolc Opera Festival, in Elektra by Strauss at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf, and in Janáček's Jenůfa in Hamburg, in the role of the Kostelnicka. She retired from the operatic stage after performing the role of Klytemnestra in Elektra in Barcelona (Spain) in February and March 2008. However, she sang Klytämnestra in a staged performance of Elektra in Grand Théâtre de Genève in November 2010. She also keeps a small studio at the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary.

Marton received the Persian Golden Lioness Lifetime Achievement Award in operatic music from The World Academy of Arts, Literature and Media - WAALM in 2006.


--  Names which are links in this box and throughout this webpage refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  


Contained on this webpage are two interviews I had with soprano Eva Marton.  The first was held backstage at Lyric Opera of Chicago, at the end of November of 1982.  At that time, she spoke in German, and I am indebted to Ursula Eggers Carroll, Artistic Administrator with the company, for providing the translation for us.  As my guest was leaving, she mentioned that the next time we met, she would speak English!

The second encounter took place at her hotel a little more than nine years later, in January of 1992, and indeed, she did speak quite fluent English.  It was, of course, sometimes a bit convoluted, but her ideas came across, and without changing any of her ideas or meanings, I have smoothed it all out just a bit to make it read well.  

The first interview was transcribed and published in Wagner News in November of 1984, and is reproduced here (along with its title and introduction) in a slightly re-edited version, with photos and links added.  The second interview has been freshly transcribed and edited for this webpage.  Audio portions of both interviews were also presented several times on WNIB, Classical 97, in Chicago.

One note about the use of an accent in her first name.  In some places, her first name is rendered as Éva, with an accent.  In looking over her own website, I find this is how it looks on the Hungarian version.  Indeed, that page also puts the names in the Hungarian order, namely Marton Éva.  However, on the English version of her website, the name is simply Eva Marton, so that is how I have opted to print it here, in an English language presentation.

Eva MartonThe Woman and Her Career
Eva Marton is one of a very select group of great sopranos who are able to balance a career singing Wagner roles as well as the dramatic Italian repertoire, and in doing this, she has become an even rarer artist, namely one who chooses roles very carefully, and then presents to the world a studied portrait of each new character.  Progressing slowly and meticulously from lighter to heavier and more complex roles, Marton is pacing her career to give audiences her discoveries of each new personality.  Only when she feels that she can deliver a finished product does she offer it to the world’s stages, and being an artist of exceptional merit, she then goes on to refine and build upon those successes so that we, the public, can enjoy her growth, and benefit from all that she has to give.  Unlike nearly every other major star in the operatic firmament, she will not record a role in the studio until she has done that role on the stage, so her portraits which are preserved on recordings bear a stamp of deeper understanding and more total commitment. 

To recount the career of the Hungarian-born soprano would be to simply ask any first-rate teacher or coach the ideal way to manage a long, steady career climb to the very pinnacle of the Wagnerian soprano parts.  From lighter roles, through leading roles, to now where she is starting to assay the very biggest parts
Brünnhilde and Isoldethat has been the career of Eva Marton.  She has sung in all of the major opera houses of the world and all the major music festivals.  Her parts in Chicago bear this out: Maddalena in Andrea Chenier, Elsa, Tosca, Fidelio, and this month the Empress in Die Frau Ohne Schatten of Richard Strauss.

Eva Marton at Lyric Opera of Chicago

1979 - Andrea Chénier (Maddalena) with Domingo, Bruson, Sharon Graham/White, Kuhlmann, Voketaitis, Gordon; Bartoletti, Gobbi, Saamaritani

1980 - Lohengrin (Elsa) with Johns, Martin, Roar, Sotin, Monk; Janowski, Oswald (Dir & Des), Schuler (lights - for all productions listed here)
                        [Photo of Marton as Elsa in this production with Johns interview]

1981 - Fidelio (Leonora) with Vickers, Roar, Plishka/Macurdy, Hynes, Hoback, Kavrakos/Del Carlo; Kuhn, Hotter

1982 - Tosca (Tosca) with Luchetti, Wixell/Nimsgern, Kavrakos, Tajo, Andreolli, Cook; Rudel, Gobbi, Pizzi

1984 - Frau ohne Schatten (Empress) with Johns, Nimsgern, Zschau, Dunn, Devlin; Janowski, Corsaro, Chase

1989-90 [Opening Night] - Tosca (Tosca) with Giacomini/Jóhannsson, Nimsgern, Runey, Tajo, Andreolli; Bartoletti, Gobbi/de Tomasi, Pizzi

1991-92 - Turandot (Turandot) with Bartolini, Mazzaria, Kavrakos; Bartoletti, Farlow, Hockney

1992-93 - Elektra (Elektra) with Secunde, Rysanek, Johnson, Busse; Slatkin, Friederich, Schavernoch

1993-94 - Walküre (Brünnhilde) with Morris, Jerusalem, Kiberg, Lipovšek, Hölle; Mehta, Everding, Conklin

1994-95 - Siegfried (Brünnhilde) with Jerusalem, Morris, Clark, Wlaschiha, Maultsby, Halfvarson; Mehta, Everding, Conklin

1995-96 - Götterdämmerung (Brünnhilde) with Jerusalem, Salminen, Lipovšek/Maultsby, Held, Wlaschiha; Mehta, Everding, Conklin
                 Ring Cycle with cast as above, except Elming (Siegmund), Salminen (Hunding)

On her previous trip to Chicago, Marton was most gracious to take time from her busy schedule to chat with me about her career and her thoughts on operatic topics.  There is one other thing I should like to point out: she is a very beautiful and striking woman.  Somehow, photographs, and even the cover of Opera News, do not do her justice.  Tall, slender, and with lovely hair, she arrived for the interview in slacks and a pullover sweater.  Though most of her responses were in a rather soft tone of voice, often she would become quite animated, and her whole face would light up as she described the various joys of singing her roles. 

Here is most of what was said on that delightful afternoon . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   Let me first ask you about the acoustics at Bayreuth.  Are they different, better, worse than other houses?

Eva Marton:   I feel that they are the best of any house, especially for Wagner because the orchestra is covered.   It’s wonderful there.  The first time I sang there I was a little apprehensive about it.  When I looked down I saw only the conductor, and I missed that contact with the orchestra.  The situation, though is very good for the public, even if it’s a bit hard for the singers.

marton BD:   Does it disturb your technique to have that extra blast of orchestra coming right back towards you?  

EM:   It is just a matter of personal contact with the orchestra.  There is no difference as far as the sound is concerned.

BD:   Then when you sing in any other opera house, do you like having all those little lights in the pit?

EM:   Yes, I like that.

BD:   Are you conscious of the public in a standard opera house?

EM:   I don’t see them, but I feel their presence.  When I sing, I always feel that I get more back than I give out, especially at the end of the act.

BD:   Do different publics react differently in different cities?  [Vis-à-vis the video shown at right, see my interviews with Tatiana Troyanos, John Macurdy, and James Levine.  A Hirschfeld caricature of the five principals appears with the Troyanos interview.]

EM:   Yes, there is a different reaction.  Each public is different.

BD:   Let me ask you about some of your roles.  You’ve sung both Venus and Elisabeth in the same performance?

EM:   Yes, but under very special circumstances.  I’d only do Venus at Bayreuth.

BD:   Do you feel it’s a good idea to sing both roles in the same performance?

EM:   I feel that every woman has a bit of both characters in her.  She wants to be prized, but also very sexy.  In the case of Bayreuth, the concept of Götz Friedrich worked very well, but to do it on stage requires that kind of concept.  The only really ideal place to do it was at Bayreuth, because the intermission was an hour.  That was just about enough time to make the changes in character and make-up and wardrobe, etc.  With a twenty-minute intermission, like at the Met or anywhere else, it would be impossible.  It also has to do with the mental attitude.

BD:   Are the intervals in other operas where you sing just one character too short or too long?

EM:   No, I think they are about right.  If they are too long you get out of the rhythm, but if they’re too short you don’t have the necessary breather.  But you have to keep the level up.  I would be very happy to be on the stage the whole evening!

BD:   Another Wagner opera you’ve done is your namesake in Meistersinger.  How much of the pixie is Eva?   [It should be noted at this point that the interviewer and the translator spent several minutes figuring out the use of ‘pixie’, and attempting to render the thought into German.]  Let me change it to how mischievous is Eva?

EM:   I have not sung the role in about four years, and I really don’t care to sing it again.  It’s too lyric for me now, and so it’s no longer ‘my’ part.  But the role is really the typical German young girl of the time, maybe seventeen or eighteen years old.

BD:   Would she and Hans Sachs have been happy if Walther had not come along?

EM:   Yes, I think she would have been happy.

BD:   Is she happy with Walther?

EM:   Oh, yes, she has that ability to be a bit refined.  She is something like the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro.

BD:   Let’s move to Mozart then.  Tell me about the Countess.

EM:   At the beginning of my career, I sang the Countess for my entrance examinations.  That was in Hungarian, and later I sang the role in German.  Then I did Donna Anna all over Europe under many conductors and directors, but again I’ve not done these for at least four years.  I have a very large repertory, but I don’t have to maintain all of those roles now.  Maybe in another ten years I’ll come back to the Countess.  Right now, though, I have so many new things to do that there is simply no time for these roles.

marton BD:   How do you decide which roles you will sing, and which you will skip?

EM:   In the next five or six years I will be moving into the high dramatic repertory, and that will take a lot of preparation.  It’s not overnight that you can change into that repertory.  I must take it in steps and see which roles I want to sing next.  That way I can build from role to role.  Earlier I sang Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, and Handel.  After that was the light Wagner, Eva, Elisabeth, Sieglinde.  Now I’m beginning Brünnhilde, first the Siegfried, then the Götterdämmerung, and maybe in ’86 or ’87 all three.

BD:   Your voice dictates that you sing Wagner, but do you enjoy the roles?

EM:   To live just with Wagner wouldn’t be enough.  I would like to be like earlier singers, when they were required to sing a wide variety of roles.  Today, there is a tendency to concentrate, or specialize in one Fach [category], and I’d rather have a variety.  But even though I like the variety, I must be careful in my planning.  I cannot go from one role to another of differing weights too quickly.  It must all be planned out very well.  My goal at this point, though, is to do Isolde and Brünnhilde.  Soon I will be doing Lohengrin, but Ortrud, not Elsa.

BD:   Why Ortrud?

EM:   As a woman, it interests me more to sing Ortrud.  I may not be as mean as some, but then my Elsa is different from others’ conceptions.  But there is something in the character of Ortrud that interests me very much, and like I indicated, I don’t want to repeat my roles, but rather I want to grow and find new things.

BD:   Do you do any new operas, Twentieth Century works?

EM:   I really don’t have the opportunity to do them – only Bluebeard’s Castle of Bartók, and the Strauss roles.

BD:   Would you ever do Lulu?

EM:   No, it’s not for my voice.

BD:   Do you enjoy listening to Twentieth Century music?

EM:   I don’t accept or enjoy ‘modern music
, however if it’s good music, it gives me joy to listen to it.  I love music, but not noise.

BD:   Do you like Early Music, such as Monteverdi or Cavalli?

EM:   Yes.  It’s the start of opera.   I’ve done Rodelinda in Hungary, and I’d love to do it again.

*     *     *     *     *

marton BD:   How do the different maestri affect your performance?

EM:   Obviously, it’s a very big part of the performance.  When I work with someone who is very good, and there is a very good rapport, there are only a few points in the performance when I have to watch him.  The conductor knows what to expect from me, and I know what to expect from him.  Sometimes, even without any rehearsals, things can work very well.  I remember a performance of Otello in Hamburg with Nello Santi.  I was a replacement that day, and we met only a half hour before the performance.  We each asked if the other knew the opera and since we did, the whole thing was very spontaneous and wonderful.  But you can’t do that often.  It’s very special.  Normally I like the rehearsal time to learn exactly what I can expect and what I will get from colleagues, and what I can give in return.  That way everything is well thought out.

BD:   Can a production get over-rehearsed?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Sir Andrew Davis.]

EM:   No, and it’s getting less all the time!

BD:   But suppose you had six months to work on a production?

EM:   It’s not the singers’ fault that the rehearsals get shorter.  It’s because of time periods and schedules.  I never worked with Felsenstein, and he’s the only one I know of who got that kind of time for anything.  But I feel that singers are better educated and better prepared now, so there is not really a need for that many rehearsals.  I can learn a piece in five days.  I will not really know it, but I can read it and sing it that quickly if necessary.  But to get the role into my vocal cords and into the character, it takes a bit longer.  You can’t think about how to sing it when you get on stage.  You must know it in advance.

BD:   When studying a role, do you go back to the composer’s letters and documents for research?

EM:   I don’t go back that intently anymore.  I went to a university for seven years and studied all of that, but when I did my first Fidelio, I did a great deal of reading.  I do a lot of reading when I am traveling, but I don’t really go back to composers’ letters anymore.  I studied that very intently in school, so I know a great deal before I start any role.  The main thing is to read the text of a role, and find out what I can give the audience.  I always ask if there anything new I can bring to the role.  The composer wrote the opera with what he had in mind, and the art is for the singer to interpret the role in a new way, and maybe bring some new things out.  I’m not talking about holding a note longer than somebody else, but what the character means to me, and how I feel the character was, and interpret it accordingly.

BD:   Tell me about the Kaiserin in Die Frau Ohne Schatten.  How selfish is she to demand what she does of the Kaiser?

EM:   What the Kaiserin missed before she had the Kaiser was physical love.  Now she has it, and wants to hold onto it, no matter what.  That’s why she wants the ‘shadow’, because she wants to become an actual woman, rather than just a spirit.

BD:   Is there any correlation then between the Kaiserin and Brünnhilde in Siegfried?

EM:   The Siegfried Brünnhilde is very scared of her own feelings.  She wants his love, but is afraid of these feelings.  She doesn’t want to give up her godhood, so that is the problem.  She is in the middle
half goddess, half woman.  When she acts like a woman, then she has no longer anything to do with the gods.  It’s the same in the Strauss opera.  When the Kaiserin remains with the humans, she cannot go back to being a goddess.  If she is a spirit, then she can exist for many hundreds of years.  But as a mortal, her life span is limited, and she takes on the pain and suffering of the other people.

BD:   Is it worth it to her?

EM:   She did it, so therefore it’s worthwhile.  This is my opinion, naturally.  In the third act, she goes back to her father, and gives herself for the Kaiser.

BD:   Have you done any other Strauss Roles?

EM:   Ariadne, which I love.

BD:   Why is that special for you?

EM:   In the first act [Prologue] I can play myself.  It’s the theater world, and it’s a little crazy.  Then in the second act [Opera] I can also play myself because I am performing, and I am on the stage, so that’s me, too.  The first act is back stage and the real person, and the second act is the singer on the stage, so they’re both me!  [Laughter]  I’ve also sung Chrysothemis, and I will be doing Salome in ’84.  I waited a long time before accepting the Salome, and it will be in concert.  I don’t think I would ever do it on stage.  I’m not the type
my voice is, but physically I’m not.  For Elektra I will wait even more because I don’t think I’m yet the type.  But I don’t want to wait too long.  My interest in the role is to find out why someone can hate so totally.  It may be kind of a death wish, because when she finds what she wants to accomplish, she won’t remain alive very long.

marton BD:   So is it evil turned inwards?

EM:   No, just a death wish.  Death is the only salvation for her.

BD:   Is that anything like Isolde living for the salvation of death?

EM:   No, those are different ideas of death, and there is no correlation between them.

BD:   Do you enjoy playing death scenes on the stage?

EM:   I never thought about this.  It’s part of the plot.

BD:   It just seems that in so many operas you wind up dead!  [Both laugh]

EM:   It’s the composer’s fault, so I can’t do anything about that!  It’s part of the drama of the piece, and obviously you can’t change that.  There are very few operas with a happy ending – Ägyptische Helena is one of them, and Die Frau Ohne Schatten.

BD:   Is it a great relief to you, as Fidelio, to find Florestan?

EM:   Yes, I do everything for it
I sing for it, I work for it, I see everything else as sort of a prologue.  That is when the drama really starts.  The dialogue in the first act is stupid.

BD:   If you were directing, would you cut it?

EM:   I wouldn’t cut it, but perhaps a different cast could sing and another one act, or perhaps use a narrator.  I haven’t really decided.  I’ve discussed this with a very good actor, and we’ve had lots of exchanges on how it could be done.  He would be very interested in being the narrator, as in Oedipus Rex of Stravinsky.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you enjoy making recordings?

EM:   I’ve made a few, and I really don’t think about the microphones.  I just make music, and anyway, opera recordings are not big business.  That’s left to light music and pop.  Lots of singers record roles before they sing them on stage, but I do it the other way around.  I perform them first on stage, then record them.  I feel it’s not truthful to do the record when the role has not been done on the stage.  But if you’ve done it on stage, you can record it.

BD:   Would you turn down a request to record a new role?

EM:   Yes.

BD:   Does opera work in concert?

marton EM:   It’s a necessary, inexpensive solution.  It’s a much better solution than being home and listening to a recording.  It can be very interesting and you can really be captured by it, and there is the unexpected in a concert performance because it will never be the same.  When you can listen to a recording many times, and it’s always the same, but in a live performance, either in the theater or in the concert, there’s always something new.  There are the vibes that go from the singer to the audience that you don’t get in the recording.  If I should cry and the audience cries with me, then that’s wonderful, and that’s theater.

BD:   That’s why I asked about making recordings because there you’re emoting but nothing is coming back.

EM:   Yes, that’s pretty awful, but you have to keep doing recordings to preserve things for the future.  I never heard Tebaldi or Callas on the stage, so if I had not been able to hear the recordings, I would never have known that they were like.  Since I did not see them, I cannot have the enthusiasm for the recordings that comes from people who did see them on the stage.  The recording doesn’t evoke the same reaction for one who has not seen them live.  But to pick two others, I have seen Nilsson and Vickers, so I know what those two can do for an audience.

BD:   Do you enjoy the direction that new productions are taking?

EM:   There is a lot of experimental theater in Germany, in Frankfurt and Hamburg.  Some things are good and some things are not so good.  You should take from the performance what you like, and leave the rest in the theater.  It’s a little like a newspaper or television.  You read what is important to you and the rest you forget.  In a performance, you only retain what you need, and you don’t have to believe or accept what is presented.

BD:   But you can turn the page of the newspaper and change the channel on the television.  In the opera house you’re stuck for three hours.

EM:   I don’t wish to mention any names.  It is not my place to criticize any directors, but there are some things which you simply cannot do.  You cannot rewrite the piece.  I’ve experienced some things which are simply not believable.

BD:   But the directors are asking for this kind of thing.  This was my point in asking about reading of letters and documents of composers.

EM:   Yes, I understand, and some stagings are like modern paintings where you have to take what you want and leave the rest on the canvas.

BD:   Be selective?

EM:   Yes.

BD:   We seem to have so much conflict, and there is so much pulling apart of the works, so where is opera going today?

EM:   As long as there are good singers and conductors, we won’t permit it to be torn apart.  If someday there happens to be no more good singers and conductors, then it might go into a different direction, but I don’t think that will happen.  Things cannot always remain the same, so we must search for new ways to bring operas to the stage.  If you look at a production which is ten or fifteen years old today, it doesn’t seem current.  The revolutionary in opera was Wieland Wagner, and now I think things will remain pretty stable for the next ten or fifteen years.  If I am asked to do something that I really cannot do, I speak up and let them know I cannot do it.

BD:   Thank you very much for all of your insights, and thank you for coming to Chicago.

EM:   Thank you.  It was my pleasure!

A little over nine years later, in January of 1992, we met again, this time at her hotel.  We had set up the appointment on the phone, and when I arrived she told me, “You have a very good voice!  When I heard you on the phone, I thought, as we say in Germany, he is ein Geborener, he is born for this job, to be vocal!  The voice is very positive, how you speak.  I thanked her for the lovely compliment, and after a bit more chit-chat, I mentioned that the Chicago area had quite a large group who were originally from Hungary.  That is where we pick up the conversation . . . . .

marton EM:   I’ve never met them.  They’re not coming to me.  I have just two or three people here around me.  The others don’t seem to be comfortable enough to come to me.  Maybe my name is too big.  That’s always my problem.  I lose many friends because of that.

BD:   Is it tough being an opera star?

EM:   It’s tough.  It’s tough, and it’s not right.

BD:   Do you like traveling all over the world to sing in various houses?

EM:   I have to like it, but when I travel I can do no sight-seeing or other things like that.

BD:   Do you feel that you are slave to the voice?

EM:   No, no, no, never.  This is a gift from God, and it’s such a beautiful thing.  It’s so beautiful to sing, and so few people have this gift.  I am very happy.  I was always happy with my voice.  With the years it’s very interesting... I don’t watch myself so critically now.  I know that I’m richer as a woman as the years move on, and it’s so interesting just to show this rich life.  I speak about being rich in my feelings, not that I have money.  It is a higher accounting.  I’m a very rich woman with my voice.

BD:   I would very much agree.  Do you sing differently from house to house, from a big house to a small house?

EM:   No, it is not different, but any house has a focus.  This house in Chicago is very long, very deep.  When I saw it for the first time in 1979, I thought my God, this is just a train station, it’s so long!  But now, after so many years, it’s very normal for me.  It’s difficult to carry over the orchestra, but you have to stand in the right point on the stage for your voice to project the best.  I don’t think about my voice here, though I have to be sometimes at a difficult point.

BD:   So you look for the good points to stand?

EM:   I don’t look any more.  I know them now!  [Laughs]  But the first time I looked, and since we are good colleagues, we gave each other ideas of where to stay or not stay on this point or that point.  I didn’t believe it at first, but I had to believe when I was at one point and it just didn’t come over the orchestra to the public.

BD:   What happens, though, if the stage director says you must stand there?

EM:   It is not for me.  I’m a very happy person, and I can search for my place, really search and find my place on the stage during the work.  Then that’s enough.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Many of the characters that you sing are goddesses or princesses, and some are real, human women.  Do you find it more difficult to play one than the other, or easier to play one than the other?

EM:   I am very lucky.  All the time I meet a lot of excellent regisseurs [stage directors], and I’ve really done very good productions.  Every production I learned something, and always more and more from each character.  I don’t know enough.  I know that today, and maybe never will.  But it’s was a wonderful experiment to work with Harry Kupfer, and Jonathan Miller, and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, and Götz Friedrich.  To have such big names as I had around me, and that was very difficult working at the beginning.  But with time it’s very interesting.  I don’t like doing just nice princesses and positive roles to do on the stage.  For me it’s very interesting to do the negative roles.

BD:   [Surprised]  Really???

EM:   Oh, yes!  It’s more interesting for me as an actress.  It’s very interesting to do Ortrud, so I changed parts in Lohengrin to Ortrud, like I did Chrysothemis
to Elektra.  [She would later sing Klytemnestra, thus doing all three female leads in the opera.]  This is not just for the vocalism, but my voice is fuller, bigger.  That is very, very interesting for me.  This way to go is a high dramatic way, and you will see when I do Elektra, she is not a princess like Turandot on the stage.  She’s a princess, too, but not the same.  She’s proud, but absolutely an animal on the stage in this production.  It’s interesting...  At first, I was always very static, and I didn’t trust to play too much on the stage.  I was always within my voice, and how I work it, and how I sang.  That was the first step.  Just in the last seven years, I am working more and more as an actress on the stage.

marton BD:   Putting more drama into it?

EM:   Oh, yes.

BD:   Where does this come from
does it come from the libretto, or from the story, or from historical research?

EM:   I am always working.  It’s really not from the music, but after the words and the text.  I take nothing about the character from the music.

BD:   [Shocked]  Nothing????

EM:   Nothing!  I do everything from the words and the text.  It’s the music Strauss or Wagner wrote after the text, and the first was always the text.  When I’m on the stage, it just happened with me in Houston one year ago in the new production by Jonathan Miller, we put Tosca in the year 1943.  I was on the stage as Tosca, and was no more Eva Marton.  It was so amazing for me.  It was then real life for me.  I was Tosca, but later, when I went back to the dressing room, I came down and was Eva Marton again.  It was a very, very interesting feeling.  I put myself so in the role, so in the part, I forgot who I am.  I didn’t believe it when somebody told me about this kind of thing ten years ago.  It just happened with me for the first time when I sang her.

BD:   Even though you become Tosca, or any of these characters, you don’t forget about the singing technique, do you?  Or is that just natural for you?

EM:   It’s absolutely natural for me, the text, the music, and the stage.  But what we did for the five or six weeks before we started to do the performances, this is my secret!  When I did Elektra for the first time in Vienna two years ago, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do anything.  Twenty-four hours a day I was always busy with Elektra.  It was interesting.  My husband looked at me and watched me when looked at TV for a few minutes, or just read something after coming home.  When I went into the street,
I didn’t put make-up on, and there was nothing inward done for me.  He told me, “You are not my Eva anymore!  Please, please come back!  You are not my proud, tall, athletic woman.  You are just schlampen [sloppy].

BD:   You were still Elektra?

EM:   Yes, it was interesting.  We worked at it every day, eight or ten hours, and it took over all of us.  We were all too close to it, and he was right.  I forgot that when I came home.  Now I leave everything in theater.  When I am there, I am no more Eva Marton.  You lose yourself.

BD:   Is it perhaps in the rehearsal period, when you haven’t given the performance, that you haven’t released the character, but once the performances have started, each night is separate from the rest of your life?

EM:   Absolutely.

BD:   That’s good.  [With a gentle nudge]  Otherwise your husband would leave you!  [Both laugh]

EM:   No, I don’t believe that after twenty-six years, no, no.  He’s a very true person.  I don’t believe it!  I believe everything, but this is the only thing that I’d never believe.  [Laughs]

BD:   Not even if you come home as Tosca?  

EM:   No, no!  [Continues laughing]  I kill just Scarpia, but never Cavaradossi!  He’s an absolute hero in my heart.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’re offered all kinds of roles.  How do you decide which ones you will accept, and which ones you will turn down?

EM:   I sang so many roles, and I will sing some new roles.  What is taking place in the future, I will do the Dyer’s Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten of Strauss.

BD:   [Surprised]  Not the Empress?

EM:   No, I sang the Empress in the Metropolitan.  It was a very famous production with Birgit Nilsson.  That was my first Empress in the United States.

[From a review by Peter G. Davis in New York Magazine of the Nathaniel Merrill production of Frau ohne Schatten at the Met, which opened October 12, 1981, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf, and was dedicated to the memory of Karl Böhm.]

Originally planned as a showcase for Birgit Nilsson, the evening turned into something better-a great night at the opera.  (...)

The surprise of the evening was Eva Marton as the Empress. Her stratospheric role has been the property of the indestructible Leonie Rysanek for the past quarter century, but Marton gave no one cause to regret the substitution. In contrast to the Dyer's Wife, the dignified Empress expresses her agonizing dilemma in purely vocal terms, a tortured lyricism at a pitch of fevered intensity. It is essentially a stand-and-deliver role, and while Marton's measured singing may have seemed a trifle placid compared to Rysanek's whiplash phrasing, the Hungarian soprano unflinchingly rose to every challenge, often with thrilling results. She hurled forth one ravishingly beautiful note after another with incomparable power, security, and total sheen, capping it all with a stunning high D-flat in her dream sequence. At the end, Nilsson received the respect due an old favorite, but Marton was greeted with the tumultuous approval of an audience that had unexpectedly discovered a star.

I also did it here in Chicago.  That was a wonderful production where everything came together.  I liked it very much.  I wish I could see it for myself from the outside, and that is sometimes so sad.  This Turandot is interesting from David Hockney, but I cannot speak about a stage that I never saw from the outside.  Everybody told how beautiful the colors, how beautiful it ends, but the I never had the possibility to see it.  I really look forward to doing Barak’s wife in the Festival in Salzburg five or six times.  We will have a wonderful team with Sir Georg Solti, and Götz Friedrich, the stage director.  We have Marjana Lipovšek, and the wonderful Cheryl Studer as the Empress, and Robert Hale as Barak.  He was my Orest in Covent Garden in Elektra, and he was my Wotan in Ghent in Die Walküre.

marton BD:   Who will be singing the Kaiser?  [It would be Thomas Moser.]

EM:    I don’t know.  This is a good question.   I don’t know who is the Kaiser.  I never asked it.  I’m not the Kaiserin, and I didn’t ask about the Kaiser.  That’s true!  [Both laugh]

BD:   But it was your decision then to sing Barak’s wife instead of the Empress?

EM:    Yes!

BD:   She is a more interesting character?

EM:   Yes, and when I sang the Empress the last time in the Vienna Staatsoper, I see the other part, Barak’s wife, and know that it is so much better.  It’s amazing.  Something just moves in your body.  You want to do it, and I’m very happy I will do it now.  I was watching the other role and seeing what she was doing on the stage, both things I liked and things I did not like.  It’s interesting just to watch colleagues.

BD:   And yet, you have to play your own role, even though your colleagues are doing things that are not right.  How do you get around that?

EM:   I’m just working.  I like it when everybody is working in a team.  It’s very important, and some people forget this... especially the tenors.  [Both laugh]  They think they are the big guests, and the greatest prima donnas now!  We prima donnas are not prima donnas any more.  [Continues laughing]  We don’t like this word, but sometimes I have the feeling that they’ve taken our place.

BD:   You sing a lot of Strauss, and a lot of Wagner.  Is there a vocal connection between Strauss and Wagner?

EM:   Yes, I think so.  Wagner was before Strauss, and without Wagner, we wouldn’t have had Strauss.  In a way it’s that Strauss is the German ‘verismo’ writer, especially with The Composer.  For me he has everything.  He’s my favorite composer.  After so many years, you will become a gourmet, and in singing Strauss you are a gourmet.  When I do it on the stage, this beautiful music is the best for me, and here are all the best characters.  They’re fantastic... but with Wagner, too, the Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung, my God!

BD:   We
ll get to Wagner later, but will you eventually be singing all of the Strauss operas, including Daphne?

EM:   No, no, I never had the possibility to sing Daphne.  It’s too high for me, and you need a little bit lighter voice for the role.  I just can’t.  I did Die Ägyptische Helena in Munich in the Summer Festival eight years ago, and I heard it on some black-market tape.  Somebody asked me if I was angry when we don’t get money for it, but it’s nothing.  It’s just coming out, and it’s wonderful, I think.  Money’s not everything.

BD:   You’re just glad that it’s available? 

EM:   Oh, yes, for my friends, for my fans, and for myself, too.  It’s amazing!  Why not!  [Returning to her thoughts]  I haven’t done Rosenkavalier, but I have done Ariadne many times, and I will do it in Houston again.  But Rosenkavalier and Capriccio are the only ones I’ve never done.  I’d like to do Rosenkavalier, but I want to do in a very modern production.  It’s not enough just to do what they did forty, fifty, sixty years ago.  We have to move forward...

BD:   ...and yet the music remains the same.

EM:   The music is the same, but how we produce the music and how everything comes together is not the same.  That is wonderful, and that is music, and that is opera.

BD:   I see, to keep it alive!

EM:   Yes.  I am always working through all of this.  If you put a singer in another time, so many things come out and come over the footlights that you never saw before.  In Barcelona this season, I did Salome, and we did a very, very interesting version.  Mr. Ulrich from Cologne was the stage director, and we had two Salomes on the stage at the same time.  One was a ballerina, and one was me.  As the opera began, everything is seen from inside my head.  I am alone with my thoughts when I hear John the Baptist.  At this point I am alone on the stage.  It was a very, very interesting production.  I wish some opera house in America would bring this production.  It’s so interesting; it’s amazing.  You saw how Salome is childish, and then how she is more a woman, how she’s good or not good.  You saw this in her.  She’s afraid!  She has a split personality.  I like doing it this way.  Sometimes we were together with eye contact, with touch contact, and we enjoyed in the same moment.  John was really a prophet.  He’s a beautiful man with a beautiful body, and how he danced was something new on the stage.  Everybody understood.  It really a prophetic.  He says something new.  He wasn’t an old-fashioned prophet, and that’s very interesting.

BD:   [Knowing this would be impossible]  Would you ever want to do Salome and Elektra on the same evening?

EM:   [Reacts with a mixture of horror and laughter]  No, you can’t!  I’m sorry, that’s too much.  I am happy when I’ve finished Salome, and I am happy when I’ve finished Elektra.  It’s so difficult.  When you begin the performance, you never know how will you finish this opera.

BD:   [Surprised]  You never know???

EM:   I am very well-prepared, really, but the first question is which direction I am going to in this given evening.  I can
t show everything in one evening.  I know that now, and I didn’t know it before.  The character is so rich and so big, and so enormous.  You can’t do everything; you have to choose.  Today it’s a sad Elektra, and I will have more contact with the mother.  Another evening I may have more contact with my sister.  You have to choose in which direction you go, and which part of the character you take.  As Salome, it’s more lyric, it’s more dramatic, or jealous, or more childish.  You can put that in Elektra, too, to show how she remembers when she was a child.  She was a beautiful, and that was interesting for me.  This why Götz Friedrich, the stage director, gave me the key for these pages.  I was always sad when I remembered, and he told me, At this moment you are very happy.  You are the young Elektra now, and you are beautiful.  If you believe that, you will never be tired on the stage.  You will be fresh after one hour and twenty minutes, and you can do it.  This was miraculous, and when I am on the stage, I saw my wonderful young body when I was fourteen, or twelve.  Every girl watches her body, and sees how it’s growing, and how it’s beautiful.  That is in my head in these very difficult passages, and I am never tired.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let’s move over to Wagner.

EM:   In November I finished the Ring recording for EMI.  We did the Götterdämmerung.  That is a very hard work.  Three weeks we worked on it in Munich.  Everybody was very, very nervous in the beginning.

BD:   Why?

EM:   It’s enormous material!  You don’t know what might happen after two or three days.  Somebody might become ill or have an accident.  But we had a beautiful the time with Bernard Haitink and this wonderful team of Siegfried Jerusalem,  Marjana Lipovšek and John Tomlinson.  What a beautiful voice he has.  It’s amazing.  When he sang, it’s, oh, my God!  He was born to sing this part.  It’s amazing, his voice.  It’s fantastic.

marton BD:   He was just here a few weeks ago with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

EM:   Yes, and he sang well?

BD:   Wonderfully.

EM:   I know what he did!  Cantata Profana of Kodály.  I taught him the text, as it’s Hungarian.  It’s a very old version of text, and it’s very difficult for us, for Hungarian people.  But he did very well.  It’s interesting.  Sometimes if you are afraid, you don’t know.  I don’t know how I can finish Elektra or Salome.  It’s the truth.  I know I can finish, but how?  That is the question.  I’m very happy to be going back to Europe.  I am flying to Paris, and I do the Ring as a concert performance for the radio with Janowski

BD:   He’s a big favorite here, as you know, having sung with him.

EM:   I know.  He is very really very special for me.  We do this Ring together, and thereafter I am coming back here for the new Ring with Zubin Mehta and August Everding.  I will also do a new Ring in Berlin.

BD:   You are doing lots of Brünnhildes all around!

EM:   Not lots, no, just those two this year.  [Chicago was one opera per year, with the full cycle in the fourth season.]  That’s enough for me.  It will be a little bit tough because I can’t sing other parts if I am busy always with the same thing.  I don’t like that.

BD:   Do you pace yourself, and only accept a few engagements every year?

EM:   I don’t do too much.  I never go more than 52 or 54.  That is a very high number of performances.  I also do concerts and records, and in the last year I didn’t do so many performances.  I was always in the studio.  I was recording the whole month of June Fanciulla del West, and later we did Gurrelieder with the New York Philharmonic, and then I did Götterdämmerung.  So it’s quite enough for me.  [Laughs]

BD:   Do you sing differently in the recording studio than you do in the opera house?

EM:   No more.  I tried to do that.  I tried to do this in my new way.  I like to do the same thing that I do with passion, with emotion, with feeling, and this is my new way.  I cannot just repeat the parts of the score so pure and so clean.  That is not enough for me.

BD:   You need to do more for the microphone?

EM:   Yes.  My new Salome was a normal work for me.  You don’t know how long I worked just in every phrase and every word.  How I can use my voice colorfully to show the many possibilities I have in the middle voice, and with the words.  You have to use your voice very, very lightly, very transparently.  We did that one year ago with the Berlin Philharmonic.  We also had two concerts.  That was a very interesting job for me.  It was very good to watch and hear this amazing orchestra.  Everybody is a soloist, and how they come together is very, very interesting for me.  The Berlin and the Vienna Philharmonic are wonderful.

BD:   [Being unabashedly chauvinistic]  The Chicago Symphony is also pretty good...

EM:   [Smiles]  I know the Chicago symphony.  I never worked with them, but I heard just heard a concert with Sir Georg Solti.  The sound is so enormous.  The Berlin is very masculine, and everybody is a soloist.  The sound in Vienna is so soft and so easy when they play together.  I had a opportunity to do Elektra with the Vienna Philharmonic, and Salome with the Berlin Philharmonic, and those were some of the greatest experiences of my life.  

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Tell me a little bit about Brünnhilde!

marton EM:   The first time I did Brünnhilde was in ’84 in San Francisco.  It was a Nikolaus Lehnhoff production, and Edo de Waart was the conductor.  It was a very, very new old-fashioned Ring.  We played it very, very modern on the stage.  The stage was beautiful, with the old tradition going with the new tradition in another way.  I think that it’s the real opera theater.  I sang the first time in Siegfried.  I couldn’t do Die Walküre, and I thought maybe it would be better if they not think how about the Siegfried wakes up with a new woman, not what she was in Die Walküre.  The next year I did Götterdämmerung and Siegfried together.  Lehnhoff was more of a father to me in both.  He took my hand and he led me over the difficulties.  It’s very interesting just to learn, step by step, about Brünnhilde more and more.  It’s a work that is living, about what is left of life.  It’s just a good base, and I didn’t do so many performances.  I waited always for big opera houses and big things.  I did Die Walküre in Ghent, and then I waited.  I had a possibility to do it, but life is sometimes very strange.  You have a contract, you have everything ready, but then it comes to nothing.  So, I didn’t do Brünnhilde again.  But now, here in Chicago, I will be in a new production, a new idea as a new life has begun again.  Let me see what will happen here.  I think we will go on in a very modern way.  What I did as Brünnhilde was for me a big experiment.  I remember, in ’85 I wrote to my girlfriend in San Francisco, “Now I know what is life!  I can die in every moment, and every year now.  Now it is ’92, and I don’t like to die!  [Both laugh]  I know I can experiment with what to do with this Brünnhilde.

BD:   You will find more things about her?

EM:   Yes, about Brünnhilde’s character.  In this moment I don’t like to speak why I am not more of an old-fashioned singer, who chooses a character for all my life, and always does the same thing in every production.  I am not like that.

BD:   Each one is new?

EM:   Each one is new.  I can’t do it again the same way.  When I do the same thing, I think it’s stupid.  No, no, we will do something new.  I am not the same as I was yesterday, and I have the possibility to change my character on the stage.

BD:   To make it grow?

EM:   Yes, to grow.  But today, to speak about Brünnhilde and what is coming here, I know this will be a lot of work with colleagues, with the producer, with the conductor.  Today, in ’92, I know Brünnhilde is very childish.  She’s very naïve.  She doesn’t know about life.  But when she learns, she really will experiment.  I will learn more when we stage it, but I can
t speak more about Brünnhilde now in this moment.

BD:   [Gently speculating]  If Siegfried had not met Hagen, and not been drugged, could Siegfried and Brünnhilde have been happy together for a long time?

EM:   I think never.  They are such different people.  When we see Siegfried in
Götterdämmerung, he is a more mature man, and Brünnhilde is a wife, a woman, a wise woman.  She loses her Godhood, but she knows more and more about her real life.

BD:   Her human life?

EM:   Yes.

BD:   So she becomes human?

EM:   Yes, and I think between Siegfried and Brünnhilde, it’s just two parallel lines.  They never meet.  They never come together.

BD:   [Genuinely disappointed]  How sad.

EM:   Oh, very sad, but it’s beautiful.

BD:   I’d like them to get together.

EM:   [Surprised]  Really???  For a happy end?  We don’t always need happy ends.

BD:   How do you see the end of the Ring?

EM:   It happens, thousands of years later, the same thing in another place.  The same thing will happen.  There may be other versions, but this is the Ring.  It’s so interesting to do the Ring.  You can put it in every time and any place.  You can play it in Latin America, in Africa, or India.  You can put this story on and always it’s universal.

BD:   Thank you again for all of your artistry, and for spending this time with me today.

EM:   Thank you.


See my interviews with Brigitte Fassbaender, and Sherrill Milnes


© 1982 & 1992 Bruce Duffie

These conversations were recorded in Chicago on October 28, 1982, and January 23, 1992.  The first interview was transcribed and published in Wagner News in November, 1984.  Portions of the second interview were broadcast on WNIB in 1992, 1993, 1996, 1998, and 1999.  This transcription was made in 2018, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.