Julia Varady 70th Anniversary
Exactly what it takes to make a prima donna has always divided opinion. But to rise to the ranks of a prima donna assoluta surely requires all manner of qualities in the eyes of operatic experts: supreme musicality, a beautiful tone, technical authority, stylistic flexibility, a charismatic stage presence, the art of characterization and perhaps other qualities, too.
Foto: Sabine ToepfferIn the case of Julia Varady it is hard to say which of these qualities she did not possess. Both in the opera house and in the concert hall she was in total command of roles and styles from every period, invariably succeeding in casting a spell on her audiences and holding them in thrall. Perhaps her greatest triumphs were in her Verdi roles, which are represented in the Orfeo catalogue by excerpts recorded in the studio as well as by live recordings from the Bavarian and Vienna State Operas. Opera lovers wanting to hear a fully rounded portrait of one of her Verdi roles could do far worse than turn to her Leonora Trovatore from the Bavarian State Opera, the company that she made her home. Her recording of the role of Lisa in the Munich production of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades has finally been released and has just been awarded a Diapason d’or in France. She has also released an intelligently chosen selection of songs by the same composer. Other recordings that deserve to be mentioned are a recital of songs by Mozart and Strauss and another of lieder by Louis Spohr in which she appears alongside her husband, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Under his baton she also appeared in many recitals and rose to such disparate challenges as Isolde’s Transfiguration, Lady Macbeth’s entrance aria and Ariadne’s great monologue. She was due to perform these last two roles onstage in the late 1990s but unfortunately she retired from operatic life shortly beforehand while still in full possession of her vocal resources, a point well illustrated by her continuing appearances in the concert hall over the next few years. But our memories of Julia Varady’s performances are still very much alive, and she remains active in masterclasses and the like. We extend to her our warmest good wishes on the occasion of her seventieth birthday.