Erzsebet Hazy (1929-1982)
“When she stepped on the podium, she enthused the atmosphere with her soul. She was the type of artist who carried a unique aura. This was the main secret of her success at home and abroad. She had that almost indefinable ability by which a great actress or a singer-personality does not live her part, rather she becomes the personification of it.” Musicologist Peter Varnai summarized Erzsebet Hazy’s initial ascendancy, later on unfortunate early disrupted career with these words.
She was the outstanding personality of the post WWII Hungarian opera who was a favourite of the Budapest audience. Erzsebet Hazy was born in Bratislava in 1929. She finished her elementary studies in her home town, and had a native-like command of Hungarian, German, Slovak and Czech. Her family moved to Budapest through the resettlements of 1939. Here, Erzsebet (Boebe – as her parents, friends and colleagues called her) first attended the Maria Theresa grammar school, and later on she continued her studies at the National Music School as a piano major. At the Singing Faculty of the same institution, her teachers included Geza Laszlo, the acclaimed teacher, who introduced her to Aladar Toth, director of the Hungarian State Opera at that time.
Erzsebet Hazy became the original member of the Choir of the Hungarian Radio, and a year later she entered the State Opera with a scholarship. In a radio interview she recounted her first memory at the Opera as follows: “In 1951 at an audition I sang – I don’t remember exactly what, but many witnesses state – a real difficult aria, the aria of the Queen of the Night, and in a general pause, I turned around and Aladar Toth suddenly exclaimed: She is crazy, we need to accept her!” In March 1952, she first performed on stage in a little role of LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, as Susanna. A few weeks later, however, she won the audience’s heart as Oscar in Verdi’s UN BALLO IN MASCHERA. From the 1952/53 season she had continuously sung title roles. She was on stage almost each night, and she charmed the critics and audience with her voice, gestures, playing and her beauty. In the 1950s and 60s Erzsebet Hazy knew no bounds regarding the genre or style.
In the comic operas of Mozart and Donizetti, important interpretaions were related to her name as the performer of the heroines of Verdi and Puccini. Her legendary Puccini series started in September, 1957 with LA BOHEME, in which she wonderfully interpreted Mimi. Perhaps the greatest success of her career was the title role of MANON LESCAUT which was premiered in December 1961, an opera which was revived nearly after 20 years. In the following year, there were more than 40, full-house MANON performances, which is almost unprecedented in the 120-year-old history of the opera. Later, Erzsebet Hazy also excelled in the title role of MADAMA BUTTERFLY in the mid 1960s, but she was also acknowledged for her performances in Tchaikovsky’s EUGENE ONEGIN as well as in Leoncavallo’s I PAGLIACCI. She summarized her ars poetica in an interview at that time as follows: “I am always discontent with myself because my expectations are too high. I would
not sing if I did not want to approach Callas once, and I would not perform if I felt that for me it was hopeless to reach the level of the greatest artists. There is no value in performing art with little ambition.”
Besides the classics of the opera literature, Erzsebet Hazy also proved her talent in the title roles of contemporary Hungarian operas. She performed in the premieres of the operas of Sandor Szokolay (SAMSON, BLOOD WEDDING, HAMLET), Andras Mihaly (TOGETHER AND ALONE), Gyorgy Ranki (THE TRAGEDY OF MAN) as well as Emil Petrovics (CRIME AND PUNISHMENT). She was also entrusted to sing in other modern opera such as: Menotti: THE TELEPHONE, Orff: DIE KLUGE, which are rather complicated both technically and musically. Besides her work at the Opera, she regularly performed in oratory performances, but she did not have an aversion to the lighter genres. She also sang the operettas and songs of Offenbach, Johann Strauss, Jr., Ferenc Lehar, Pal Abraham, and Szabolcs Fenyes. The Hungarian film directors of the era engaged her with pleaure, even though she rarely fulfilled such requests. She performed the Grand Duchess in the film entitled
“Geroldstein Kaland” based on Offenbach’s work in 1954.
She also played a nursery school teacher who lived in a small town and dreamed about a musical career in Viktor Gertler’s film, “Felfele a lejton” in 1958. She also performed the title role of “Es akkor a pasas (1966), a film also directed by Gertler. From the beginning of the 1960’s parallel to the political detente, the leading artists of the Hungarian State Opera occasionally had the chance to appear as guest artists.
Besided performing in the opera houses of the neighbouring socialist countries (including the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscos), Erzsebet Hazy scored a great success at the Vienna Staatsoper as well as in different German theatres. She was also offered a permanent contract, but it did not even occur to her to leave Hungary. In 1965 at the proposal of the Members of the Opera House, she was awarded with the Liszt prize, Kossuth prize, she was a Merited and Eminent Artist. In the middle of the 1970s her successful artistic career broke; she had to face severe professional and private crises. In her last years, she struggled with problems of singing technique, memory, alcoholism and depression. Her health rapidly worsened in 1982 and she passed away on November 24th, at the age of 53. Her voice was preserved for posterity on dozens of records as well as radio and television recordings. Thousands of people bade her a fond farewell at her bier set in
the foyer of the Erkel Theatre. Andras Hihaly, composer, who was the director of the State Opera at that time spoke highly of Erzsebet Hazy’s art as follows: ‘She was the virtuoso and lover of the state, someone who owned all colours of it. The Opera House has never had such a real prima donna, someone who was so influential and intense who could sing so beautifully.”
This is from a Hungaroton CD: