The flamboyant soprano Maria Jeritza, born in Moravia, made her early career primarily in Vienna, where her exceptional beauty, silvery spinto-weight voice and flair for dramatic (not to say sensational) stage action made her a star of the first magnitude. Baptized Mimi Jedlitzková and later calling herself Marie Jedlitzka, she sang a wide repertory and participated in the premieres of several important operas. Her glamorous presence was as welcome at the Metropolitan Opera as it was in Europe and she became a leading artist there in the 1920s.
Surprising though it may seem, given her later theatrics, Jeritza was a very shy child. Beginning her studies at the age of 12, she entered the Brünn Musikschule. At 14, she undertook private lessons from Professor Auspitzer, with whom she remained for several years. Although urged by Auspitzer to audition for a position with a number of regional opera houses, Jeritza refused, too terrified to sing before an audience of any size. Her teacher, therefore, devised a ruse, asking her one day simply to sing through some arias. When she finished, the director of the Olmütz Opera appeared from behind some draperies and informed the startled young soprano that he wished to engage her.
Jeritza's Olmütz debut as Elsa in Lohengrin saw the start of a rapid rise in confidence and dramatic savvy. Less than half a year later, she traveled to Vienna to audition for the Volksoper. Singing but a few measures, she was informed that she would be hired. Two seasons at the Volksoper led to guest engagements elsewhere and an appointment to Vienna's Court Opera, especially at the request of Emperor Franz Joseph. Meanwhile, she had created the title role in Stuttgart of Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos, thus beginning her long-term relationship with the composer who would give her yet another spectacular role, that of the Empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten in its 1919 premiere in Vienna. In both Frau and in the 1916 premiere of the revised Ariadne in Vienna, Jeritza was paired with soprano Lotte Lehmann. Jeritza also created the role of Janácek's Jenufa for Vienna, as she was later to do for New York.
Another highly publicized Jeritza creation was the role of Marietta in Erich Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, premiered in Hamburg in 1920 and repeated in New York the following year. This role, in fact, provided the vehicle for Jeritza's Metropolitan debut. During this time, the soprano also achieved renown for her interpretations of Puccini heroines. Her imperious Turandot was hailed as a major accomplishment and her not-quite vulnerable Tosca became exceedingly famous, not least for her singing "Vissi d'arte" from a prone position. Tenor Aureliano Pertile, celebrated in his native Italy as the best of the dramatic tenors, had the misfortune to make his debut opposite Jeritza's first Metropolitan Tosca. Jeritza received what, according to Met manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza's recollection, was the greatest response he had ever witnessed in a theatre. Pertile was all but ignored.
Jeritza's successes embraced a wide range of roles, all of them interesting, if sometimes misconceived. Her Octavian in Rosenkavalier was both stunningly handsome and handsomely sung. Her Minnie, Thaïs, Salome, Fedora, and Ägyptische Helena (which she premiered at the Met) were creatures of unending fascination. Although Jeritza left the Met during the Depression years when pay cuts were mandated, she continued to enthrall audiences in Europe throughout the 1930s.