Erzsi Máthé, who would have turned 96 on May 16, played at the National Theater for three decades and was a founding member of the Katona József Theater, quietly passed away in her sleep on the evening of May 8, MTI reports.
With her talent, temperament, humor, professional humility and perfectionism, she set an example for all generations of actors. Her unmistakable voice and performances are unforgettably etched in the memory of audiences and the theater world,”
Katona József Theater wrote on Facebook, adding that she last appeared on stage in 2012, but that she continued to actively follow the work of the theater and the company.
Erzsi Máthé was born Erzsébet Mertz in Budafok in 1927. As a child, she lived with her parents in great poverty and the family was deported after the Second World War because of their Swabian origins. After attending trade school, she worked in a wood shop and became a secretary. In 1945, she performed a monologue from Eagle Boy on the May 1 show, after which her boss persuaded her to try acting. She was not accepted at the Academy of Dramatic Arts, so she became a student of the National Actors’ Association’s School of Acting, under the tutelage of Márton Rátkai, Oszkár Ascher, Mária Lázár, Zoltán Várkonyi, and Hilda Gobbi, among others.
In 1948, as a fresh graduate, she signed a short contract with the Vígszínház, at which time she changed her name to Erzsi Máthé. After the theaters were nationalized, she went to Pécs, where her future husband, director József Szendrő, invited her. She was a member of the National Theater from 1952, and in 1983, she became a founding member of the Katona József Theater in Budapest.
Máthé was an extremely versatile artist, with a clear, resonant voice and a beautiful command of the Hungarian language. Because of her natural gifts, she was entrusted from the beginning of her career with the portrayal of many classical heroines and tough, loud-mouthed, sometimes cruel female characters. She was sublime as Clytemnestra (Aeschylus’ Oresteia), Queen Margaret (Shakespeare’s Richard III), Xiména (Corneille’s Cid), Gertrudis (Katona’s Bánk bán), Rhédey Eszter (Móricz’ Úri muri), and Goneril (Shakespeare’s King Lear).
Máthé also appeared in several films and TV plays. She played Marjákné, the housekeeper in the highly successful television version of Mikszáth’s novel Black City, directed by Éva Zsurzs.
At the Katona József Theater she was given good roles and was surrounded by a loving atmosphere. She once said of her profession that she had always lived only and exclusively for acting. She wanted to live with the roles and the outside world did not exist for her. In 2003, she founded an award which is presented at the Katona’s end-of-season company meeting to a company member who has given an outstanding performance. In 2006, she established a foundation to support members of the National Theater of Pécs, the Csiky Gergely Theater in Kaposvár, Hungarian-speaking theaters outside of Hungary, and graduate students of the University of Theater and Film Arts.
Throughout her career, stage fright made her life difficult. As a little girl, she was once told she would never be an actress and she struggled with it all her life. but only once did she ever not get her lines right on stage.
The actress, who lost her only child when she was very young, set up a foundation in 2002 to support institutional and home-based care for premature and newborn babies.
via MTI, Featured image: Fortepan 107212 (Donor: József Hunyadi)