(25 April 1918 – 4 September 2006)
Astrid Varnay was an American dramatic soprano of Hungarian/Swedish heritage- born in Sweden.
Daughter of two opera singers, opera was "the family business" from her earliest childhood to when her father died aged only 35.
Initially training to be a pianist, at the age of 18 she switched to taking extensive voice lessons with her mother.
Astrid Varnay did most of her work in the USA and Germany and she is recognised as one of the greatest Wagnerian heroic sopranos of her time.
She was in the league of Kirsten Flagstad, Gertrude Grob-Prandl, Birgit Nilsson, and Martha Mödl with a voice that was stentorian with an almost limitless upper register.
Encouraged by family friend Kirsten Flagstad, she began preparing a repertoire and by the time she was ready to debut at the age of 22 she already knew Hungarian, German, English, French and Italian and had a repertoire that consisted of no less than fifteen leading dramatic soprano roles, eleven of which were Wagnerian roles!
Aside from her huge, secure soprano voice she also had considerable mezzo-soprano capabilities, which she displayed in performances of Lohengrin (Ortrud) and Elektra (Klytemnestra).
Her debut at the Metropolitan Opera on 6 December 1941 in a broadcast performance of Wagner's Die Walküre was little short of a sensation. Almost with no rehearsal she had stood in for the indisposed Lotte Lehmann.
Unbelievably it was only six days later that she tood in for the ailing Helen Traubel as Brünnhilde in the same production.
She made her debut with the Royal Opera in 1948 and in 1951 in Florence she sang Lady Macbeth to much acclaim. Later that year on Flagstad's recommendation she made her debut at Bayreuth and thereafter she sang there for the next seventeen years while also appearing regularly at the Met.
Only after it became common knowledge that the director of the Met, Rudolph Bing did not like her- did she move on to some of the world's other great opera houses becoming a mainstay of the Wagner and Strauss repertoires plus some of the larger Verdi roles.
The Europeans considered her a Goddess and she continued to be much in demand. For 20 years she was considered the world's best Elektra and in her final performing years she performed the part of Herodias in Salome many times.
(She features in the famous Teresa Stratas filmed performance of Salome, in that role- which is available today on DVD.
In 1998 she published her memoirs (55 Years In Five Acts:My Life In Opera).
Astrid Varnay is remembered today as one of the very great singers of the recent past.
She died aged 88 in 2006
Astrid Varnay is one of the featured stars on our "Legends" product range.