The International Trust for Croatian Monuments


150th Anniversary of the birth of the Croatian soprano, Milka Ternina, 1863 - 1941

Above:  Milka Ternina as Isolde in Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde".
THE YEAR OF MILKA TERNINA, the 150th anniversary of the birth of Milka Ternina, has been marked in Croatia by many events and concerts, especially in and near Vezisce, her birth place, about 50 km east of Zagreb. A postage stamp bearing her image has been issued and a monograph published in her honour. The celebrations will culminate in Zagreb in December with a concert in the presence of the President of Croatia, Dr Ivo Josipovic, himself a composer.

Our Trust, The International Trust for Croatian Monuments, instigated a major exhibition in London at the Royal Opera House about the life and work of this very special artist, still remembered and revered by opera lovers. The exhibition, MILKA TERNINA AND THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE, was held from September 2006 to January 2007 and marked the centenary of her last appearance at Covent Garden. It was curated by Nada Premerl, from the Zagreb City Museum, which holds much of Ternina legacy, and Francesca and Cristina Franchi from the Royal Opera House. Designs for Ternina's costumes by the British artist Percy Anderson and made in Covent Garden workshops are especially treasured items in the rich collection of the Zagreb City Museum. Four of those costumes were restored for the exhibition.

In the introduction to the exhibition catalogue the late Lord Harewood singles out her performances of Isolde with Jean de Reszke in 1898 both at Covent Garden and the Met , "hailed as an extraordinary success on both sides".

Our Trust also initiated the formation of the Society of Friends of Milka Ternina. It is hoped that one day one of the traditional wooden houses in the area of her birth will be restored as a museum dedicated to Ternina's memory. 

Jadranka Beresford-Peirse

MILKA TERNINA (1863 -1941)

Milka Ternina was born at Vezišće, Moslavina, on 19 December 1863.

She was a Croatian opera singer (soprano), the greatest among a number of distinguished singers whom Croatia gave to the world in the 19th and 20th centuries. She was celebrated as one of the greatest singers of her time, with beautiful, powerful and carrying voice and perfect singer's technique, of gracious stage appearance, noble face and - especially pointed out - unique, magic acting. In the history of the world opera art, she is known as "the great, legendary Ternina", and referred as such in all encyclopaedias.

Born as a miller's daughler, she became world famous due to her great talent, her God given voice, diligence and excellent education. As a girl, she came into the house of her relative and writer Janko Jurković in Zagreb, where she received her first music lectures from Ida Wimberger. Then she left for Vienna to study at the Academy with Joseph Gänsbacher, at that time the best teacher of singing. As a student, she sang at concerts in Vienna, Zagreb, and in Varaždinske Toplice since 1879 and her first opera performance was in Zagreb, in the role of Amelia in A Masked Ball, (G. Verdi) in 1882.

There followed permanent engagements in leading opera houses in Germany and in Austria: Leipzig (1883 - 1884), Graz (1884 - 1886), Bremen (1886 - 1889) and Munich (1889 - 1899). In Munich she was honoured with the title of the Royal Bavarian Chamber Singer, words that are written also on her tomb at the Zagreb cemetery Mirogoj She sang also in Bayreuth, Prague, Venice, Moscow, Zurich, Zagreb and USA and was most admired in the Royal Opera Covent Garden in London and in Metropolitan Opera in New York. 

In London and New York she participated in premieres of the Puccini's opera Tosca in 1900 and in 1901. She sang in 1903 the role of Kundry in New York, in the first performance of Wagner's Parsifal outside Bayreuth. She was the second best paid singer in the history of Metropolitan Opera: the mezzo-soprano Emma Calvé was earning 1800 American dollars and Ternina 1250 dollars per performance; the earnings of Enrico Caruso, her partner in Tosca, never came close to those of Ternina. During her career from 1882 to 1906, when she had to withdraw from stage for facial nerve disorder, she sang 64 roles in 59 operas composed by 34 composers. In some operas, especially by Mozart and Wagner she sometimes alternated in two roles. Although she performed in most diverse operas of Italian, German, and French style, she was best known by her interpretalions of Wagner's heroines and drew special attention when performing in Mozart's operas. 

Ternina was unique in tragic as well as in comic roles. Contemporary composers tried to persuade her to perform in the first nights of their operas and to those who succeeded, great success was always granted. For this reason some of those operas have later never been staged and were forgotten since there was no more that ingenious artist to "carry" the performance. Her colleagues on stage were always the greatest opera stars of the period when opera art was at its peak. Also conductors at those performances were the best of the time, all of whom immensely admired her. Ternina paid special attention to her splendid costumes, which were carefully studied and made; the best were created by Percy Anderson in London. Ternina never recorded her singing on records; there exist only badly damaged live recordings from the Metropolitan Opera from the beginning of the 20th century on phonograph cylinders. 

fter she had withdrawn from public life, she dedicated herself to quiet, charitable activities. In Zagreb, Ternina followed the music life and the life and work of young singers at the Music Academy with great interest. She recognised only one pupil- the great Zinka Kunc Milanov, to whom she said: «You will be my successor». 

However, we can still hear Milka Ternina today, since the most beautiful falls at Plitvice Lakes, which always whirr and babble, are named after her. Let us end this text with the words of Milka Trnina: "An artist's life is hard and arduous; if I could come to live once again, and if I would have the choice, I would never choose another profession.»

Dr Ivan Mirnik

milka01a.jpg (118591 bytes) milka03a.jpg (114517 bytes)
milka04a.jpg (68030 bytes)