“Glamorous yet sensitive, Novotná believed and proved that any kind of
music, any kind of art, can bring people together for the common good:
to resist tyranny, to celebrate freedom, to heal and to nurture.”
—Joyce DiDonato, Grammy Award winning mezzo-soprano
A legendary beauty, hailed as one of the greatest singing actors of her time, Jarmila Novotná (1907–1994) was an internationally known opera soprano from the former Czechoslovakia. She began her opera career as a teenage soprano and debuted at the National Theater in 1925. After leaving her homeland, she began performing all across Europe and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
Best known for her performances in Der Rosenkavalier, The Marriage of Figaro, and La Traviata, including over 200 performances at the Met, Novotná was an accomplished singer. Jarmila Novotná: My Life in Song offers Novotná’s perception of these great achievements, as well as with her ventures into modeling, theater, film, television, and radio. She continually defied the “sex siren” role that everyone from Franz Lehár to Louis B. Mayer wanted her to play. From the beginning of her career, she ignored the fascination that adoring men had for her uncommon beauty, choosing to embody her artistry in a variety of forms, including notable films like The Bartered Bride (1932), Frasquita (1934), and The Search (1948), which won her critical acclaim for her performance as a mother in search of her young son. She also used her fame to dame her a national heroine among the Czech people, serving as a cultural ambassador.
Editor William V. Madison brings Novotná‘s own English-language version of Jarmila Novotná: My Life in Song to readers for the first time. Throughout the memoir, Novotná shares stories of those she worked, her experience in the “unending party” that is Hollywood. She attended parties hosted by Mayer, co-founder of MGM Studios, who repeatedly offered her a movie contract. Novotná also offers profiles on the notable artistic figures who surrounded her, including singer Bing Crosby, Montgomery Clift, composer Cole Porter, and conductor Arturo Toscanini, as well as dignitaries like Dwight Eisenhower and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia.
Lavishly illustrated with photos from her personal collection, her memoir not only recounts her remarkable life and career, but also shares stories of her interactions with other artistic luminaires whom she worked with in a variety of settings. She also witnessed and recorded her thoughts on the birth of an independent Czechoslovakia, the country’s takeover by the Nazis, and its fall to the Soviets. With a foreword by late opera critic Brian Kellow, the autobiography sheds light on the fascinating life of one of the greatest opera singers of the twentieth century.
An event celebrating the exclusive English-language release of her best-selling memoir will be held at 7 pm Wednesday, October 10 at the Bohemian National Hall in New York City. William V. Madison will speak at the celebration, which will also feature Novotná’s granddaughter, violinist Tatiana Daubek, and the ensemble House of Time. An exhibition of archival images and memorabilia, courtesy of George Daubek, will be on display in the Hall’s Dvořák Room. Hosted by The Dvořák American Heritage Association, the event is free and open to the public, with limited seating.