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Subject: Re: Elsa: Varnay's "Debut" Role
From: Donald Levine <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Donald Levine <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 12 Jan 2018 19:53:19 -0700
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Astrid Varnay was one of the greatest dramatic soprano's of the twentieth
century.  The equal of any and she sounded just fine in the big Italian
roles.  An American legend.  BTW, one of her baby sitters was her mother's
friend Kirsten Flagstad.  Some pedigree.



Donald

On Fri, Jan 12, 2018 at 5:40 PM, daaaac <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> With all due respect to G. Paul Padillo, here’s a sort of different take
> on the incredible debut of Astrid Varnay.  I’m writing this relying on my
> memory and the Met database.  It is told in vivid detail in her biography,
> written with the late Donald Arthur, called “55 Years In Five Acts: My Life
> In Opera”.  It’s considered one of the best singer biographies for both
> operaphiles and singers.
>
> In the summer of 1941, the Met staff were astounded upon reading her
> letter of introduction and her repertoire list of basically ALL the Wagner
> heroines, plus a few Verdi and verismo roles. Her initial audition, on the
> roof stage, lasted for 2 hours, beginning with the Immolation scene from
> Wagner's Götterdämmerung. They really tested her endurance. She later sang
> a stage audition for manager Edward Johnson, singing the Liebeestod from
> Tristan und Isolde and Brünnhilde’s battle cry from Die Walküre, the latter
> complimented with a dramatic clap of thunder outside.
>
> As told to me by Mme. Varnay in 2003: On Friday, December 5, 1941, she
> went to the Met for, presumably, a coaching with conductor Erich Leinsdorf
> of the role of Elsa from Wagner's Lohengrin. She was to make her debut in
> this role the following January 9, 1942. He asked her what she we working
> on today and she said Elsa. He said he thought that was in fine shape and
> said he wanted to hear Sieglinde from Wagner's Die Walker. She probably had
> not looked at the Wralküre score for many months, but she sang the entire
> role for him, in half voice, from memory and note perfect. He then told her
> to report to the costume department. She asked why. He said “because you’re
> making your debut in tomorrow’s Walküre broadcast”. Mme Lotte Lehmann had
> cancelled and the three possible replacements - Helen Traubel, Rose Bampton
> and Irene Jessner - were unavailable. The next morning she entered the Met,
> saying hellos to friends in the standin room line, who knew her as Violet
> Varnay. Her birth name was "Iboylka (Hungarian for Violet) Astrid Maria
> Varnay". When they saw the cast list with “Astrid Varnay” as Sieglinde,
> they didn’t put 2 and 2 together until the performance
>
> She had never sung with and over an orchestra before. She had never sung
> wearing a costume or wig (when a singer wears a wig, the sensation of
> resonance is vastly reduced, so she relied on her rock-solid technique,
> taught to her by her mother, soprano Maria Javor Varnay). Everyone onstage
> were more than twice her age (23). She was merely familiar with the
> staging, having observed performances during the previous season.
>
> A few days later she ran into Lehmann at the Met and Lehmann said
> “Congratulations on your debut and I want you to know I’m in fine shape for
> Friday's Walküre. Varnay then said “Yes. I'll be singing Brünnhilde!”,
> again, a role she had never performed onstage). One can just imagine how
> Lehmann reacted to that. According to the Met database, Rose Bampton sang
> Sieglinde and we can assume that Lehman cancelled again.
>
> Her third Met appearance was Elsa (never performed on a stage before and
> on her original debut date, January 9, 1942), followed by a broadcast of
> Elsa, Elisabeth in Wagner's Tannhauser (a role she hadnever performed on a
> stage before), a Red Cross benefit singing act 3, scene 2 of Elsa , three
> more Elsas, a broadcast of Elisabeth, four performances of Menotti’s “The
> Island God” (world premiere), an Elsa, another Elsa but singing only acts I
> and II , a Brünnhilde and another Elsa in Cleveland.
>
> Donald
>
> > On Jan 12, 2018, at 4:42 PM, G. Paul Padillo <[log in to unmask]>
> wrote:
> >
> > In reading so much of beloved Wagnerians, I can't help but think of one
> of
> > the more fascinating careers, that of Astrid Varnay.  Three days ago was
> > the 76th anniversary of the date she was supposed to make her
> Metropolitan
> > Metropolitan Opera debut, as Elsa, opposite Melchior and company.  Of
> course, she'd already unexpectedly sang several other Wagnerian roles in
> the preceding weeks, but still.
> >
> > I was looking at the notices of her first Elsa and it really doesn't get
> much better than this review from "The World Telegram":
> >
> > "Miss
> > course, she'd already unexpectedly sang several other Wagnerian roles in
> the
> > the preceding weeks, but still.
> >
> > I was looking at the notices of her first Elsa and it really doesn't get
> much be
> > better than this review from "The World Telegram":
> >
> > "Miss Varnay Sings Elsa Role with Keen Awareness
> >
> > Young Astrid Varnay last heard as Sieglinde and Brünnhilde, enrolled Elsa
> > of Brabant on her Metropolitan score-card in last night's "Lohengrin.,"
> the
> > first of the season. Fresh-voiced and otherwise in fine control of the
> role's re
> > requirements, the troupe's latest Wagnerian recruit earned a fully
> deserved ov
> > ovation.
> >
> > Miss Varnay inflected the part with keen awareness of all vocal and
> > emotional nuance. Tones emerged with unsullied purity, sounding even
> > freer and weightier than on both earlier occasions, and the phrasing was
> musicianly
> > musicianly in detail and contour.
> >
> > The acting side came as naturally as to a veteran, probably a sign that
> > when in doubt the company's new star lets her own good intuition be her
> > guide. Anyway, from Elsa's piteous plea through the whole heaving cycle
> of
> > moods, the portrait built up life-size to poignant reality. In fact.
> Elsa of
> > Brabant and Astrid Varnay were artistically made for each other."
> >
> > Hear, hear!
> >
> >
> >
> > She was to make her debut
> >
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