Marthe Keller was born on January 28, 1945 in Basel, Switzerland. She studied ballet as a child but stopped after a skiing accident at age 16. She changed to acting, and worked in Berlin at the Schiller Theatre and the Berliner Ensemble.
Keller’s earliest film appearances were in Funeral in Berlin (1966) (uncredited) and the German film Wilder Reiter GmbH (1967). She appeared in a series of French films in the 1970s, including Un cave (1972), La raison du plus fou (1973) and And Now My Love (1974). Her most famous American film appearances are her Golden Globe-nominated performance as Dustin Hoffman’s girlfriend in Marathon Man (1976) and her performance as an Arab terrorist who leads an attack on the Super Bowl in Black Sunday (1977). Keller also acted with William Holden in Billy Wilder’s romance drama Fedora (1978). She appeared alongside Al Pacino in the auto racing film Bobby Deerfield (1977). Her later films included Oci ciornie (1987), with Marcello Mastroianni.
Keller has appeared in Europe and America in plays, directed opera and as a speaker on classical music in the last twenty years. For example, in 2001, Keller appeared in a Broadway adaptation of Abby Mann’s play “Judgment at Nuremberg” as Mrs. Bertholt (the role played by Marlene Dietrich in the 1961 Stanley Kramer film version). She was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress for this performance.
In addition to her work in film and theatre, Keller has developed a career in classical music as a speaker and opera director. She has performed the speaking role of Joan of Arc in the oratorio “Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher of Arthur Honegger” on several occasions, with conductors such as Seiji Ozawa and Kurt Masur. She has recorded the role for Deutsche Grammophon with Ozawa (DG 429 412-2). Keller has also recited the spoken role in Igor Stravinsky’s “Perséphone”. She has performed classical music melodramas for speaker and piano in recital. The Swiss composer Michael Jarrell wrote the melodrama “Cassandre”, after the novel of Christa Wolf, for Keller, who gave the world premiere in 1994.
Keller’s first production as an opera director was “Dialogues des Carmélites”, for Opéra National du Rhin, in 1999. This production subsequently received a semi-staged performance in London that year. She has also directed “Lucia di Lammermoor” for the Washington National Opera and for the Los Angeles Opera. Her directorial debut at the Metropolitan Opera was in a 2004 production of “Don Giovanni”. Keller has one son, Alexandre (born 1971), from her relationship with director Philippe de Broca.
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