Tuesday, November 29, 2011



I met MARITA NAPIER- the South African soprano -for the first time in New York when she joined the Metropolitan Opera in 1986. I heard her in Johannesburg in 1978 when she came out and sang Abigaille in Verdi's "Nabucco" while I was still living in South Africa.

Marita Napier as Sieglinde in La Scala's  production of  "Die Walkure"

 A 1979 I bought a book on the La Scala Opera House and  she was pictured in "Die Walkure" as Sieglinde.

She was a wonderful Chrysothemis in Richard Strauss's "Elektra" and sang with Birgit Nilsson in Berlin in 1978. Marita's high register was her strength so she did very well will high  opera roles like "Turandot" and "Elektra".She was mostly known for her roles in operas by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss.

Birgit Nilsson and Marita Napier Berlin 1978.

Watch Marita Napier here as Chrysothemis with Janis Martin as Elektra
  Helga Dernesch as Klytemnestra;-


Napier as "Turandot " in Orange France.

Wagner's "Lohengrin" with  Marita Napier and Leonie Rysanek.

"Ariadne auf Naxos"

Marita Napier as Senta  in "Der Fliegende Hollander"  San Francisco.

"Lohengrin"  in Berlin  with Marita Napier.

Marita Napier "Ariadne auf Naxos" in Vienna.

"Der Ring des Nibelungen" Metropolitan Opera .

Beethoven with Lorin Maazel.

"Tanhäuser" San Francisco, Marita Napier, Jess Thomas and Leonie Rysanek.

I also love her recording of Arnold Schoenberg's "Gurrelieder" with Pierre Boulez.
Click here to listen to Marita as Tove.

At this time she was the only South Africa singer that completed the Grand Slam and sang at the five top opera houses in the world .Deon van der Walt and Johan Botha would follow her a few years later.

Cornelia Street Cafe.

I was introduced to her by friends who  knew her from Germany .She knew few people in New York so she was thrilled to meet another South African and we could speak Afrikaans. I asked her out to dinner and we went to the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village that she wanted to try out.

Marita Napier during her Metropolitan Opera  days.

The Ansonia.West 72nd street .

She was staying in the Ansonia ,a famous residential hotel  near the Metropolitan Opera on the Upper West Side.The Ansonia housed the  infamous Continental Baths, in its basement during the 1960s and 1970s.  Bette Midler started her singing career at the Continental Baths, with Barry Manilow as her accompanist.Opera stars like Enrico Caruso, Teresa Stratas, Eleanor Steber, Geraldine Farrar ,Feodor Chaliapin.Enzio Pinza, Lily Pons and Laurence Melchior lived there as well as  musicians like Arturo Toscanini, Igor Stravinsky and Yehudi Menuhin.
By this time it was rather run down and soon after it was sold as condos. Marita decided to move to Queens where she shared an apartment with one of the costumiers at the Metropolitan Opera.She did not like to be on her own and told me Sundays killed her when everybody had somewhere to go except her. She was also doing a course in interior design that she enjoyed very much.She enjoyed travelling to exotic places and travelled to Japan and China with the Metropolitan Opera.

Marita Napier in Thailand.

She was rather complicated person and I found it difficult to talk to her.She could be very quiet and that made me nervous .She and Jerry got along like a house on fire- so I knew it was me and not her .Later I realized I must communicate with her  as Marita ,and ignore the opera star. When we stopped talking about opera ,we became friends. She loved to go to different restaurants and there is a on Mexican Restaurant on University Place that she loved. I still think of her every time I go in there.We also loved eating in the Indian Restaurants on East 6th Street.

"Turandot" Metropolitan Opera New York.

In 1988 Marita  sang "Turandot" in the Met's wonderful Zeffirelli's production of this Puccini opera.It was the first time that I went backstage and into the dressing rooms of the Metropolitan Opera. Salome, Jerry and Alayne- we all went that night and was photographed in her dressing room afterwards.  It was a great triumph for her.

Jerry, Alayne, Marita, Salome and me -backstage at the Metropolitan Opera after "Turandot"

She gave me a ticket for "Gotterdämerung " when she sang one of the Norns . I was hooked on Wagner after that.One's heart started to beat slower and you just relaxed and flowed with the music.

One night around 9:00 pm I called her and she started to laugh when she heard it was me .She just covered her face in a mud pack and as she was the cover for Ghena Dimitrova singing "Turandot" at the Met that evening -she thought it was the Met calling for her to come and take over.

In New York.

By this time she was at the Met for almost 5 years and wanted to go home.I don't think she was very happy in New York and she was tired of all the travelling .She told me her life consisted of lonely hotel rooms and waiting at airports.I then started to realize that the glamorous world of the opera singer was not what I thought it was. Later on when I  met more singers I realized more and more what a lonely life it really was. Full of stress and tension.That is what takes it toll on most singers and  not that they can not sing anymore.

Thys Odendaal, Marita, Jerry and me.

Marita and Jerry at her home in Cape Town.

Jerry and I went to visit South Africa in 1992. It was his first trip to South Africa  and Marita was then staying in Cape Town where she bought a house in Oranjezicht.She invited us to her house for a birthday party. There were a lot of people and she seemed to be  more centered and much happier. She came to the USA now and then and we would see each other then.I also visited her in her apartment in Cape Town  in Sea Point near the swimming pool.

Marita Napier in her apartment in Sea Point, Cape Town.
Photo by Philip de Vos.

She told me  that she saved 40% of every salary check .She decided that once she  retired, she would be comfortable off .By this time she had saved so much but the rate on the Rand and the Euro was so good ,that she was  living  off her German pension only . She did not touch her capital.

Johan Liebenberg, Marita and  me.

In 2001 I was in South Africa and friend told me that Marita was ill  and that she was in Johannesburg and I should call her.She was staying with her niece- her sister's daughter and her family - that she loved. The kids where like her own -and they adored her.When she came out of the house to meet me, her hair was short and grey She lost most of it during her treatment but  she was very serene and looked beautiful .Almost calmer than I ever knew her to be.We went far down in the garden and sat in a gazebo and just talked.I can't recall another time that we were so close and so relaxed in each other's company.She was the strong one and she told me that she has been fighting cancer for almost 25 years and that she was tired of the battle and was ready to move on.

When we said goodbye I realized it was most probably the  last time I would see her -and I was very sad.She achieved so much in her career but I felt she missed out on life and love. Her marriage had ended  by then and one almost got the feeling she was asking......"Is that all there is?"
She did a TV interview not long after that and people that saw it told me how sad and depressing it was.
In January of 2004 I was in Johannesburg and  heard that she was nearing the end of of her life.
  I called her apartment in Cape Town and got her sister on the line. I told her who I was and just asked her to give Marita my love.When Marita heard it was me she took the phone and we spoke a little .She was very weak but not depressed and we said our final goodbye.I thanked her for all the pleasure she brought to so many people's lives with her voice.

Here is Marita Napier as Brunhilde  in Wagner's "Gotterdammerung."

She died almost three month later on April 10 2004.
May she rest in peace.


  1. She was a bright, sensitive performer who studied her work assiduously and delivered a performance the best she was capable of. I miss her.


  2. Beautiful piece Henry - thank you for this...

  3. This post was wonderful to read. Thank you so much! I studied with Marita for a while round 1995/1996 when she was back living in CT. She seemed to love youthful energy and often arranged little get-togethers with students. We all adored her...she was such a presence. As you mentioned, she could be intimidating but it was mainly because one was so aware of her immense talent and aura. When you managed to move beyond that awe for her then she was just another person who was fun to hang out with