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<<  -- 3 --  Bill Newman    THE HUNGARIAN NIGHTINGALE


'1928 saw me in Berlin. At that time it was a wonderful city, both for the Arts and Sciences. Technique, Music, Painting ... everything was at the highest level. Max Reinhardt, the great producer had just done a new version of Offenbach's Hoffmann seele. A student friend suggested I should try and find a place in the Chorus. After just one year? Anyway, we started rehearsing the first Act. Hoffmann falls for the doll, Olympia. First, as you know she sings on her own, secondly with the chorus. I already knew the part, and to help my colleagues I started singing her role, and when the rehearsal ended I was handed a note to report at Reinhardt's office the next day at eleven. I sang once more, then he looked at me, and speaking through his nose, said: 'We look all over Europe for an Olympia, and now we discover that the one in the chorus is the best!' I performed it at the Grosser Fespielhaus. A great thing, but I don't want to talk about singing any more -- it has gone away!' She trotted happily away to find the programme in Copenhagen of Lieder and Opera arias back in 1933/4. Donizetti, Mozart, Verdi, Johann Strauss's Tales from the Vienna Woods to end. I noticed the name of veteran concert pianist Victor Schioler. 'The German pianist they assigned to me was no good, so ... But I was really a funny girl. I came out to perform the Mozart Alleluja and the audience applauded, but I showed no interest other than wanting to sing!' One critic called her 'The Hungarian Nightingale'.

'Then I went to Prague where the Hungarian Georg Szell was conducting. He had received a wonderful letter of recommendation from my father, and we met on the stage of the Opera House where he heard me, informing me that I should learn the part of Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto. I found it most difficult, and although they tried hard to make something out of me, I suffered greatly. Over a period of ten years I gradually lost my singing voice. I became unhappy, and was out-manouvred by a member of the management from continuing my career. Meanwhile, I became married to a Berliner in charge of movie theatres -- fourteen in Berlin, three or four in Hamburg. After the War, we had a very nice fourteen room house, and my mother was with me for her last twenty years. It was a very good business until television came along, and we made money selling at the various shops. Eventually, from a good looking, talented man he became a drunkard, and we separated. In 1948 my father died, so my mother left Hungary to come and live with us in 1950.'

'So, from a hausfrau playing the piano, I had my mother who always told me that no one looked after her so well as I. Toni, conducting in Europe, tried hard to make arrangements to be near her, making visits where ever possible'. Suddenly, she recalled Alfred Brauner, the Polish Jew who had made Berlin's movie business really big. At a festival after the War, he accidentally dropped a one mark piece when making a speech, whereupon a visiting Russian delegate lit one of his paper notes to search for it! Saddened by her failing marriage, a lady friend asked a favour. Knowing she was visiting Hungary, would she ask a gentleman colleague to make some purchases and bring them back to Berlin? Gizi had already explained to me that the tendering of hands usually meant a proposal of marriage, but this was certainly not in her mind when she was about to make her departure. 'We met, and he was very nice, very polite -- but I never thought that he would be such a great love for me. He began, naturally; then I told him of my problems and my home in Berlin -- my husband's illness, my role in his business, my dogs, and so on. At first I showed little interest, but he was so gracious that I thought -- why not! Do you know, I have always appeared much younger -- even now at 95 -- than I am. So, at sixty I looked forty. What could I do?'

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Copyright © 10 April 2006 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK


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