Marta Eggerth: Star of light opera regarded as the definitive 'Merry Widow' who inspired film and stage directors alike

 

Marta Eggerth, the Hungarian soprano and film star who has died at the age of 101, was the last link with the Silver Age of Viennese Operetta. A truly remarkable artist with a wide vocal range, she had songs written for her by Franz Lehar, Emmerich Kalman, Oscar Straus and Robert Stolz, among others. She appeared in more than 40 films, many with her husband, the celebrated Polish tenor Jan Kiepura, while her recording career covered an exceptional span of 70 years.

Born in Budapest, Eggerth, whose mother was a singer, began singing as a child. By the age of 11 she was known as a wunderkind having made her professional debut in an operetta by Oscar Straus called Mannequins, and undertaken a concert tour of Denmark, Holland and Sweden. She was then signed up by Max Reinhardt to play Adele in his celebrated 1929 Hamburg production of Die Fledermaus. Emmerich Kalman saw her and asked her to understudy Adele Kern in his latest operetta, The Violet of Montmartre. When a sore throat kept Kern out of the opening performance, Eggerth took over, was a sensation, and sang the rest of the run.

She was asked by Richard Strauss to study the role of Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos which she undertook. But before she could sing the part on stage, she had signed to make her first film. Written by Billy Wilder and called, in English, Where is This Lady? the film was also Franz Lehar's first. He was so taken with Eggerth that he offered to make any changes to the score she felt necessary.

It was on the set of the film Mein Herz Ruft nach Dir, in 1934, that Eggerth first met Jan Kiepura. Musical films at that time were often shot in two or three languages. For Mein Hertz, Eggerth sang in the Italian and German versions, Danielle Darrieux in the French. It wasn't love at first sight with Kiepura, since he was much more interested in Darrieux than Eggerth, but eventually he did take notice and asked to escort her home. Feeling it was too soon in their relationship to invite him in, they walked up and down in front of the building where she lived. When they eventually came to say good night, Kiepura hurried to a florist and bought Eggerth a huge bunch of flowers. But he hadn't any money on him and Eggerth had to pay.

They were married in 1936 and became known throughout Europe as The Love Pair.

The following year, Kiepura was engaged by the New York Metropolitan Opera. While he was there, Eggerth headed to Hollywood to appear in two films with Judy Garland. But she hated playing second fiddle to Garland and got out of her contract with MGM as soon as she could. Returning to New York, which had become their home since neither of them, each with a Jewish mother, could contemplate a return to war-torn Europe, they opened on Broadway in Lehar's The Merry Widow with Robert Stolz conducting and George Balanchine as choreographer. The production was a fabulous success and became their meal-ticket. It toured the United States and was seen throughout Europe. Eggerth, possibly the greatest Widow of all, performed the role some 2,000 times in five languages.

When Kiepura died unexpectedly in New York in 1966, Eggerth immediately retired from the stage. It was her mother who persuaded her to return. She appeared with Diana Rigg in the musical Colette and later in Stephen Sondheim's Follies in Pittsburg, as well as making several cameo appearances on television. She was one of those artists who never lost her love of the greasepaint.

At the age of 87, Eggerth appeared in a televised concert to mark the first production at the Vienna State Opera of The Merry Widow. News of her participation produced a rush for tickets and her performance prompted a standing ovation. In her nineties she still sang the occasional concert, including one at the Wigmore Hall in London. She appeared to great acclaim in cabaret in New York and gave masterclasses on Viennese operetta at the Manhattan School of Music.

In 2005, a double-CD of her recordings was issued covering the 70 years from 1932 to 2002. For her 100th birthday in 2012, The Vienna State Opera staged a gala. Few other singers, if any, can have enjoyed such a long and distinguished recording career. Even when she reached the age of 100, Marta Eggerth epitomised the wit, the style and the glamour of Viennese operetta. She died at her home in Rye, New York and is survived by her two sons, Jan Sharbek and the concert pianist Marjan Kiepura.

Marta Eggerth, opera singer: born Budapest, Hungary 17 April 1912; married 1936 Jan Kiepura (died 1966, two sons); died Rye, New York 26 December 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative - Unskilled & Skilled

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen to jo...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Law Firm - Bromley

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Market...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen Fitter / Kitchen Fitters Mate

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This designer and manufacturer ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee