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55 Years In Five Acts: My Life In Opera.

Varnay, Astrid & Arthur, Donald.

13 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 1555534554 / ISBN 13: 9781555534554
Published by Northeastern University Press, Boston, 2007
New Condition: New Hardcover
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392 pages. Hardcover with dustjacket. New book. MUSIC. One of the world's greatest Wagnerian sopranos talks about an illustrious career that flourished for over five decades. For Astrid Varnay, opera was the family business. The daughter of coloratura soprano Mária Jávor and dramatic tenor Alexander Várnay, she literally grew up backstage at the opera. Vocally and musically trained by her mother and mentor (and later husband) Hermann Weigert, she was just twenty-three years old when she made her unofficial debut at the Metropolitan Opera as a last-minute replacement for the suddenly ill Lotte Lehmann. Varnay's critically acclaimed performance as Sieglinde in Die Walküre catapulted her into the limelight. Varnay reflects on her remarkable life in opera, discussing her signature roles and performances, vocal preparation and technique, interpretive acting style, and her seamless transition from leading soprano to character roles, including her switch from Elektra to Klytemnästra in Strauss's Elektra. Her engaging and witty memoir is filled with frank, often critical, observations about many of the most significant vocal artists, conductors, and directors of the twentieth century. She describes her lifelong friendship with operatic idol Kirsten Flagstad, the years at the Met and conflicts with Rudolf Bing, her appearances at the Bayreuth and Salzburg Festivals, and her artistic rift with Herbert von Karajan. (Key Words: Richard Wagner, Sopranos, Astrid Varnay, Memoirs, Mária Jávo, Alexander Várnay, Hermann Weigert, Metropolitan Opera, Lotte Lehmann, Sieglinde, Die Walküre, Elektra Richard Strauss, Kirsten Flagstad, Rudolf Bing, Bayreuth, Salzburg Festival, Herbert von Karajan, Music, Donald Arthur). Bookseller Inventory # 51861X1

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Bibliographic Details

Title: 55 Years In Five Acts: My Life In Opera.

Publisher: Northeastern University Press, Boston

Publication Date: 2007

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:New

Dust Jacket Condition: Dust Jacket Included

Edition: First Edition..

Book Type: book

About this title

Synopsis:

For Astrid Varnay, one of the world's greatest dramatic sopranos, opera was the family business. The daughter of coloratura soprano Maria Javor and dramatic tenor Alexander Varnay, she literally grew up backstage at the opera. Vocally and musically trained by her mother and mentor (and later husband) Hermann Weigert, she was just 23 years old when she made her unofficial debut at the Metropolitan Opera as a last-minute replacement for the suddenly ill Lotte Lehmann. Varnay's critically acclaimed performance as Seiglinde in "Die Walkure" catapulted her into the limelight and launched an illustrious career that flourished for over five decades. In this memoir, Varnay reflects on her remarkable life in opera, discussing her signature roles and performances, vocal preparation and technique, interpretive acting style and her seamless transition from leading soprano to character roles, including her switch from Elektra to Klytemnastra in Strauss's "Elektra". Her fascinating account is filled with frank, often critical, observations about many of the most significant vocal artists, conductors and directors of the 20th century. She describes her lifelong friendship with operatic idol Kirsten Flagstad, the years at the Met and conflicts with Rudolf Bing, her appearances at the Beyreuth and Salzburg Festivals, and her artistic rift with Herbert von Karajan. This candid view of the world of opera should appeal to both fans and aspiring singers.

Review:

Soprano Astrid Varnay's career began in fairy-tale fashion. She made her operatic debut (at the Met) as a last-minute replacement for a huge star, Lotte Lehmann. Varnay was 23, and the role was Sieglinde in Die Walküre, opposite one of the greatest of all tenors, Lauritz Melchior. Though the attendant fanfare was drowned by events--Pearl Harbor was attacked the next day--she went on to a long and admired career.

If you're looking for bitchy gossip, this memoir will disappoint you. Varnay has an old-fashioned courtliness to her, and she has unfailingly glowing things to say about her colleagues--most of them. Rudolf Bing and Herbert von Karajan are pointed exceptions. Conflicts with the "austere Viennese martinet" Bing led to Varnay's absence from the Met for nearly 20 years. As the focus of her career shifted to Germany, she left New York and settled in Munich. (Though often thought to be Scandinavian--she was born in Sweden, to Hungarian parents--Varnay grew up in the United States.)

As much an actress as a singer, Varnay was praised for her powerful characterizations. She felt a kinship with Wieland Wagner, in many of whose productions she appeared at Bayreuth during the 1950s and '60s, and whose pursuit of dramatic truth mirrored her own. Varnay describes her method of probing a character, offering insights into each of her major roles. Her career had three phases: principal dramatic-soprano parts (Wagner's Brünnhilde and Isolde, Beethoven's Leonore, Strauss's Elektra); character roles, frequently with a villainous tinge (Klytamnestra, Herodias); and finally--stretching into her late 70s--cameo appearances as maids or grandmothers.

Varnay's chatty narrative includes plenty of anecdotes about colleagues like Kirsten Flagstad and Birgit Nilsson. She amusingly tells of near-disasters onstage: the Tristan who falls asleep while she's singing the Liebestod, the blackout in the middle of a performance, the listing tree that the singers have to hold up by taking turns leaning against it. Although Varnay is enough of a diva to report carefully on all her accolades, she comes across as an unpretentious working woman with a delight in the wonderful artists she has collaborated with. The only complaint with the book: not enough pictures. --David Olivenbaum

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