28 December 2013

Márta Eggerth (1912-2013)

On 26 December 2013, Hungarian-born singer and actress Márta Eggerth (1912-2013), who maintained a global career for over 70 years, died in Rye, New York. She was the popular and talented star of 30 German and Austrian operetta films of the 1930s. Many of the 20th century's most famous operetta composers, including Franz Lehár, Fritz Kreisler, Robert Stolz, Oscar Straus, and Paul Abraham, composed works especially for her. After the rise of the Nazis, she continued her career with her partner Jan Kiepura in the US. Ms. Eggerth was 101.

German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8356/2, 1933-1934. Photo: Atelier Binder, Berlin.

Latvian postcard by JUR, Riga, no. 2734. Photo: Ars.

German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6799/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Freiherr v. Gudenberg.

German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7875/1, 1932-1933. Photo: Atelier Binder, Berlin.


Márta (or Martha) Eggerth's was born in Budapest in 1912. Her mother, a dramatic coloratura soprano, dedicated herself to her daughter, who was called a 'Wunderkind'.

At the age of 11 she made her theatrical debut in the operetta Mannequins. Marta began singing the demanding coloratura repertoire by composers including Rossini, Meyerbeer, Offenbach, and Johann Strauss II.

Soon she was hailed as Hungary's 'national idol'. She performed at the Hungarian state opera in Budapest. Eggerth made her film debut in Budapest in such silent films as Csak egy kislány van a világon/There Is Only One Girl in the World (Belá Gaál, 1929).

While still a teenager, Márta Eggerth embarked on a tour of Denmark, Holland and Sweden before arriving in Vienna at the invitation of Emmerich Kalman. Kalman had invited her to understudy Adele Kern, the famous coloratura of the Vienna State Opera, in his operetta Das Veilchen von Montmarte (The Violet of Montmarte). Eventually she took over the title role to great critical acclaim after Kern suddenly became indisposed.

Next she performed the role of Adele in Max Reinhardt's famous 1929 Hamburg production of Die Fledermaus (The Bat). At the age of 17, she was perhaps the youngest singer ever to undertake this part. Her silvery soprano voice made her in the following years a popular star of the operetta.

Dutch postcard by JosPe, no. 593.

Dutch postcard by Filma, no. 664.

Dutch postcard by JosPe, no. 547.

German Talkie

Marta Eggerth's film career really career took off with the German sound film Bräutigamswitwe/Let's Love and Laugh (Richard Eichberg, 1931) co-starring Georg Alexander.

The success of the film resulted in international fame.

Her German film debut was soon followed by more film operettas like Trara um Liebe/Trumpet Call of Love (Richard Eichberg, 1931) and Moderne Mitgift/Modern Dowry (E.W. Emo, 1932).

Franz Léhar composed the music for Es war einmal ein Walzer/Once There Was a Waltz (Victor Janson, 1932), especially for Eggerth.

Dutch postcard by Filma, no. 450. Photo: publicity still for Die Blume von Hawaï/The Flower of Hawaii (Richard Oswald, 1933), an adaptation of the operetta The Flower of Hawaii by Paul Abraham.

Latvian postcard, no. 2284. Photo: J. Rolin (?), Riga. With Hans Söhnker.

Dutch postcard by JosPe, no. 468. With Richard Tauber.

Cheeky, Captivating Girl

In the silver age of the operetta Márta Eggerth starred in numerous successful film operettas and musical comedies as the cheeky, captivating girl, but she also played more tragic roles.

To her great successes belong Das Blaue vom Himmel/The Blue from the Sky (Victor Janson, 1932), Leise flehen meine Lieder/Lover Divine (Willi Forst, 1933), Unfinished Symphony (Anthony Asquith, Willi Forst, 1934), Der Zarewitsch (Victor Janson, 1933), Die Czardasfürstin/The Csardas Princess (Georg Jacoby, 1934), Die ganze Welt dreht sich um Liebe/The World's in Love (Viktor Tourjansky, 1935), and Das Schloss in Flandern/The Castle in Flanders (Géza von Bolváry, 1936).

Critics praised her musical abilities, but also her nuanced acting.

In favour of her film work, she appeared less and less on stage.

Dutch postcard.

Dutch postcard, no. 237. Photo: City Film.

Dutch postcard.

Dazzling Pair

On the set of Mein Herz ruft nach dir/My Heart Calls You (Carmine Gallone, 1934), Marta Eggerth fell in love with the young Polish tenor and film star Jan Kiepura.

The couple married in 1936, and they were the most dazzling Liebespaar (Love Pair) of the European cinema.

Together they starred in Zauber der Boheme/The Charm of La Boheme (Géza von Bolváry, 1937), based on motives from Giacomo Puccini's opera La Bohème.

They caused a sensation wherever they appeared. But the political situation became more and more uncomfortable for her in Austria, being a foreigner and of Jewish descent.

Jan Kiepura. German Postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8515/1, 1933-1934. Photo: Ufa / Cine-Alianz.

German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7096/2, 1932-1933. Photo: Atelier Kiesel, Berlin / Aafa Film.

German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8583/1, 1933-1934. Photo: Ufa / Cine-Allianz / Frhr. von Gudenberg.

MGM Musicals

In 1938, Jan Kiepura and Márta Eggerth fled Austria after its annexation by the Nazis. They first settled down in the South of France, and later in the USA.

Eggerth was signed by the Schubert Theater to appear on Broadway in Richard Rodgers' musical Higher and Higher.

She subsequently signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Hollywood, but she only performed in two MGM musicals. At the side of Judy Garland, she appeared in For Me and My Gal (Busby Berkeley, 1942), and Presenting Lily Mars (Norman Taurog, 1943).

Together with her husband, she returned to the theatre, and they first starred on the operatic stage in La Bohème to rave reviews.

Then they had a huge, three-year long success with Franz Léhar's operetta Die lustige Witwe/The Merry Widow, with Robert Stolz conducting and George Balanchine as choreographer. They would eventually perform The Merry Widow more than 200 times, in five languages throughout Europe and America.

German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8939/2, 1933-1934. Photo: Atelier Binder.

German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8356/3, 1933-1934. Photo: Atelier Binder, Berlin.

German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7677/2, 1932-1933. Photo: Angelo Photos.


After the war, Márta Eggerth and Jan Kiepura returned to France. They toured through Europe and starred in such films as La Valse Brilliante/Brilliant waltz (Jean Boyer, 1948) in France and Das Land des Lächelns/Land of Smiles (Hans Deppe, Erik Ode, 1952) in Germany.

Eggerth wasn't able to gain a foothold again in the German cinema, and would further only appear in Frühling in Berlin/Spring in Berlin (Arhur Maria Rabenalt, 1957) starring Sonja Ziemann.

In the 1950s she became American citizen, but her connection to Europe remained. In 1954 Eggerth and Kiepura brought The Merry Widow to London's Palace Theatre and they often toured through Germany with The Merry Widow and other productions.

After Jan Kiepura died in 1966, Eggerth stopped singing for several years. Finally, persuaded by her mother, she decided to revive her career.

In the 1970s she began to make regular television appearances, and to actively perform concerts in Europe. In 1979, she was awarded the Filmband in Gold for her longtime achievements in the German cinema.

In 1984, she returned to the American stage. She co-starred in the Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt musical Colette opposite Diana Rigg in Seattle and Denver, and later in Stephen Sondheim's Follies in Pittsburgh.

In 1999 Eggerth had a comeback appearance on German television as a chamber singer in the episode Nie wieder Oper/Never Opera Again of the popular crime series Tatort. In 2005 she brought out a new album, Marta Eggerth: My Life My Song, with recordings from throughout her career.

In 2007 the Silent Film Festival of Pordenone in Italy presented one of her first Hungarian films, but the then 95-year old star was not able to attend. The reason: she had to perform at a concert in New York!

Mártha Eggerth always stayed an advocate of the operetta: "In opera, everybody dies. In operetta, everybody is flirtatious", she said of her favourite art form.

Marta Eggerth owned an 18-story apartment building in Rye, New York, where she died 26 December  2013. She was 101.

Latvian postcard by JUR, Riga.

Dutch postcard by JosPe, no. 330. Photo: City Film.

German postcard by Das Programm von Heute / Ross Verlag. Photo: Atelier Schenker, Berlin.

Sources: Anne Midgette (The Washington Post), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Filmportal.de, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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