Foto: ORFEO InternationalThe life and career of Astrid Varnay are the subject of both legend and anecdote. She was Bayreuth’s first post-war Brünnhilde, continuing to appear in the part, alongside various colleagues, for well over a decade. Having abandoned the hochdramatisch repertory, she switched to character roles and in a career spanning over half a century captivated Munich’s audiences by her mere stage presence alone. Her ability to invest the parts that she played with a very real sense of character also comes across in the many live recordings of her performances, which include the late portrait of her Klytämnestra in Strauss’s Elektra (Orfeo C 504991 with Leonie Rysanek and Orfeo C 599061 B with Ursula Schröder-Feinen). Herbert von Karajan conducted her in the title role in Salzburg in 1964 and 1965 but then removed the work from his repertory, arguing that so high a level of achievement could never be repeated, a decision that comes as no surprise to all who have heard Orfeo’s recording of the 1965 revival (Orfeo C 298922 I): there were few singers who could match Astrid Varnay’s ability to convey blackness and evil through her voice alone in such demonic roles as Elektra and Salome, which she saw less as a childlike seductress than as a homicidal vamp (Orfeo C 503022 I).
Foto: ORFEO InternationalEven today, when heard in the privacy of our own homes, this performance can still seem terrifying in its intensity, while the more withdrawn moments, including her entrance monologue and recognition scene with Orestes, can still get under our skin. It was this range of expression, extending from high-spirited jubilation to fury and redemptive compassion, that made her Brünnhilde so much larger-than-life in her 1956 Bayreuth recording of the Ring under Hans Knappertsbuch (Orfeo C 660513 Y). With the death of Astrid Varnay, the world of music has lost not just a paragon among musicians but also a valued and sympathetic teacher of many young singers who have followed in the footsteps of their great mentor.
Chormusik & Oratorien
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Symphonie & Konzert