Born: September 23, 1907; Prague, Czech Republic
Died: February 9, 1994; New York, NY
Jarmila Novotná became a celebrity, respected by the leading musicians of her time, first in Europe and later in America. Although Novotná's lyric soprano did not quite match in sheer loveliness to its owner's physical appearance, it was amply attractive and always at the service of an unusually perceptive and highly musical artist.
Beginning her voice training in her middle teens, Novotná principally worked with the famous dramaticRead more soprano Emmy Destinn. Destinn set down a focused approach to vocal study and first led her pupil to the coloratura repertory. Later, Novotná moved into lyric roles and remained in that fach for the duration of her career. The young soprano was not yet 18 when she made her successful June 28, 1925, debut at the Prague Opera as Marenka in Smetana's The Bartered Bride. A still greater sensation surrounded her performance in La traviata six days later. During her studies in Italy, she appeared in several venues in that country, including Verona, where she was approached by the claque and, having no money with which to pay them, feared the worst. She prevailed in Rigoletto, however, and was called upon to encore Gilda's big scene. Her Duke was Giacomo Lauri-Volpi. Her success there led to a L'elisir d'amore at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, where she sang with Tito Schipa. Despite tempting offers from several Italian houses, Novotná accepted a contract with the Kroll Opera in Berlin, then-regarded as one of Europe's most progressive companies. Under the musical direction of Otto Klemperer and the stage supervision of Gustave Gründgens, the soprano made great advances as an artist. When the Kroll was closed in 1931, Novotná was given a position with the parent Staatsoper and performed under such important conductors as Leo Blech, Erich Kleiber, and George Szell. Later performances with stage director Max Reinhardt at the Theater am Kurfürstenendamm added still more depth to Novotná's interpretations. With the rise of National Socialism, she transferred her activities to Vienna where she enjoyed enormous popularity from 1933 to 1938. Franz Lehár sought her for his Giuditta and, in 1934, she and Richard Tauber sang the work to cheering crowds at the Staatsoper and continued to regularly appear in it until 1938. Novotná became equally popular at the Salzburg Festival, her Pamina under Toscanini's baton being especially memorable. Her other Mozart roles there included Fiordiligi, Cherubino, and the Countess. After the Anschluss, she sang there no longer, nor did she continue at the Staatsoper. Asked by Toscanini to come to New York for performances of La traviata and Falstaff that failed to materialize due to an unsatisfactory venue, she was taken by the maestro to Metropolitan Opera general manager Edward Johnson, who offered her a contract. Her American debut actually took place, however, at San Francisco in a 1939 production of Madama Butterfly. Following her January 5, 1940, Metropolitan debut as Mimi, the soprano sang at that house for a total of 16 seasons, distinguishing herself in Mozart and as an alluring Manon and an impetuous Octavian. Hoping to reside once more in Europe after WWII, Novotná and her husband, Baron Daubek, found their property in Czechoslovakia confiscated by the Communists. After living in America once more, the couple eventually retired to Vienna. Novotná also enjoyed considerable success in film. Read less