Although today there are few surprises when it comes to singers on the rise, Eva Marton's coming of age at the Metropolitan Opera is an electrifying affair. The name was known before she sang the role of the Empress in Strauss's ``Die Frau Ohne Schatten'' (``The Woman Without a Shadow''). In fact, she had made her debut in '76 and had been warmly received as Chrysothemis in Strauss's ``Elektra'' in '78. But in '81 in ``Frau,'' Marton came fully into her own. The voice soared majestically, hugely, in the role, flooding the house with opulent, gleaming tones. And the audience received her tumultuously.
The following season she clinched her position of favor at the house with her first try at a totally different sort of part -- the title role of Ponchielli's ``La Gioconda,'' proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was not to be pigeonholed in German literature. Since then, she has taken her celebrated Tosca to Chicago and has added Turandot in Vienna (videotaped for commercial MGM/UA release and also taped for a CBS Masterworks digital recording) and elsewhere to her lengthening list of roles.
This season she had her first Met opening night as the dark sorceress Ortrud in Wagner's ``Lohengrin.'' She stole the show even from Pl'acido Domingo, who was singing his first Met Lohengrin, stopping the second act for over a minute after her thrilling invocation to the gods. (The Texaco Metropolitan Opera Radio Network broadcast is Saturday, Feb. 16, at 1 p.m. Eastern daylight time.) I caught up with Miss Marton the day of her departure for Hamburg -- a warm, sticky-humid late October day, as she was scurrying around a loft-like West Side condominium she had been calling home for the past six weeks. She apologized for her poor English (which was not at all poor). We commiserated on the odd weather. She mentioned that she had sung Fidelio in Salzburg in a lead costume when the temperature onstage was 122 degrees F.: ``There was no air conditioning because maestro Karajan [who was not even conducting that day] does not like it.''
She discussed her schedule for the next few months, which was to include a new production of ``Frau'' in Chicago, then back to Hamburg, and on to Barcelona, Spain (Gioconda, Tosca), Avignon, France (Elsa in ``Lohengrin''), New York (a concert Sieglinde with the New York Philharmonic, more Ortruds at the Met), and to Toronto for Strauss's ``Four Last Songs'' and the closing scene from ``Salome'' (to be recorded for CBS Masterworks). And this from a singer who cares for her instrument and turns down many more dates than she accepts.
``I never thought I would have such a big success with `Turandot' and `Ortrud.' I sang before so wonderfully in [Verdi's] `La Forza del Destino,' `Il Trovadore,' `Otello,' and was not noticed. You know why? We had so many good singers [10 years ago]. And my way in these roles is so different. I am interested now in how I can do `Manon Lescaut,' `Forza.' This is very interesting after these special parts.''
And what about Ortrud? ``You know this was a wonderful study for me for my `Walk"ure' Br"unnhilde. I said after Ortrud, I am so ready for the `Todesverkundigung' [a big scene in the second act] where all sopranos die [i.e., have major problems getting through].''
Ortrud is usually sung by mezzo-sopranos, although Miss Marton avers emphatically, ``I think Ortrud is absolutely a soprano part. The notes are so hard, so high. The second act is so difficult -- so much in the middle range.'' Was it not unusual to keep the heroine, Elsa, in her repertoire now that she was doing Ortrud? ``It is very important for me to go with my own way in the Wagner heroine Fach [German for vocal type].''
She sang her first ``Siegfried'' Br"unnhilde last spring in San Francisco to wide acclaim. This summer she adds the ``G"otterd"ammerung'' Br"unnhilde to her repertoire. A blazing preview of that can be heard on a new Sefel record of Wagner arias -- the ``Immolation Scene'' is thrillingly performed. The following year, she will do ``Walk"ure.'' Why not all three at once? ``I'm sorry: I am smart. If another artist sings the rehearsals, then you can do the whole `Ring' for the first time. But not all the stage rehearsals, all the orchestra rehearsals, and then all the general rehearsals. This is too many performances.''
She had the most praise for Nicholaus Lehnhoff, who is staging the San Francisco ``Ring'' -- ``a man with big flexibility. A director with so many ideas. He sees me and he knows what is good, and will work. And he has good taste.'' (She will do her first Isolde with him in Houston in a few seasons, and expects to do her first Elektra with him in the beginning of the next decade.)
Miss Marton would have no qualms about walking out of a production she felt strayed too far from the spirit of the opera. ``I am sorry. I'm not a singer who takes everything on my shoulders and finishes the performances. When I don't like it, I say `Sorry, OK. I lose money and many things, but not my peace of mind.'
``What is important for me is finding what the composer wants in the character -- what is deep in the character. I see it like an empty house. When I move into this house, I give it my character. I feel this true for roles, too. I put my personality into the role, and that is very important. When you have character and personality, you can feel the roles.''