Wed, 25 April 2012
The great Astrid Varnay was born on April 25, 1918. Let us celebrate the memory of this legendary soprano with highlights from her illustrious career. All selections are from the 1950's and they include scenes from Parsifal, Tannhauser (Venus and Elizabeth),Tristan und Isolde, Flying Dutchman (with Hans Hotter),Elektra (w.Hoengen and Schoeffler, and concluding with the Gotterdmaerung Immolation Scene. (68 min.)
She made her sensational debut at the Metropolitan Opera on 6 December 1941 in a broadcast performance singing Sieglinde in Wagner's Die Walküre, substituting for the indisposed Lotte Lehmann with almost no rehearsal. This was her first appearance in a leading role, and it was a triumph. Six days later she replaced the ailing Helen Traubel as Brünnhilde in the same opera. Varnay and Weigert became closer and were married in 1944. It was also at this time that she had lessons with former Metropolitan Opera tenor, Paul Althouse.
In 1948 she made her debut at Covent Garden and in 1951 in Florence as Lady Macbeth. In that year she also made her debut at Bayreuth after Flagstad, who had declined the invitation to Bayreuth, recommended that Wieland Wagner engage Varnay. She sang at Bayreuth for the next seventeen years, and appeared regularly at the Metropolitan until 1956.
She left when it was clear that the Met director Rudolf Bing did not appreciate her, and went on to become a mainstay of the world's other great opera houses, especially in Germany, in Wagner and Strauss but also several Verdi and other roles. She had already made Munich her home, where audiences considered her a goddess.
In 1969 she gave up her repertoire of heavy dramatic soprano roles and began a new career singing mezzo roles. After being the world's leading Elektra for over twenty years, she now established herself as a great interpreter of Klytemnestra. The role of Herodias in Salome became her most often-performed role: 236 performances. She returned to the Metropolitan in 1974 and last appeared there in Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in 1979.
In the mid-1980s, character roles now became Varnay's metier. Her last appearance on stage was in Munich in 1995, fifty-five years after her Metropolitan debut. In 1998 she published her autobiography Fifty-Five Years in Five Acts: My Life in Opera, written with Donald Arthur (German title is Hab'mir's gelobt).
In 2004, a documentary about her life and first New York career entitled Never Before, produced by Donald Collup, received acclaim in the USA. Her recordings of Strauss heroines such as Elektra and Salome along with the Wagnerian roles are among the treasures of the medium, while transcriptions of broadcast performances of her great roles document her art in sound, and a few video recordings of her late career preserve evidence of her acting ability. Astrid Varnay died in Munich on 4 September 2006, aged 88.