Search - Ludwig van Beethoven, Giuseppe Verdi, Richard [Classical] Wagner :: Opera Scenes and Orchestral Songs

Opera Scenes and Orchestral Songs
Ludwig van Beethoven, Giuseppe Verdi, Richard [Classical] Wagner
Opera Scenes and Orchestral Songs
Genres: Pop, Classical


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CD Reviews

A Premiere Wagnerian Voice
Smorgy | Southern California, USA | 06/28/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Astrid Varnay was the equal of Nilssen and Moedl... and in this record it is clear why Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner kept inviting her back to star at Bayreuth Festival for 17 consecutive years! Not only did she have glorious voice (big, full bodied with clear top and colorful bottom), she was a consumate actress, too. Her reading of the roles are always multi-layered and utterly convincing. A dramatic soprano version of what Vesselina Kasarova is today. If you combine Nilsson and Modl and divide in two you'd probably get something close to a Varnay.

For the record, Varnay and Nilssen were practically the same age (unlike what the other reviewer said). They were born not far from each other in Sweden and just a few weeks apart (Varnay was older)... and the two were great friends. The rather popular misperception that Varnay was much older than Nilsson is because Varnay started starring in the lead hochdramatisch roles like Brunnhilde, Isolde, and Elektra in her early 20's while her contemporaries were still doing understudy and supporting works. As a matter of fact, this extraordinary singer had her Met debut the day before Pearl Harbour bombing substituting for Lotte Lehmann as Sieglinde opposite The Lauritz Melchior in the broadcast Die Walkure without having ever sung on stage before and made a grand success of it and never looked back.

Theirs were the Golden Age of Wagnerian hochdramatiche. The likes of Traubel, Nilsson, Varnay, Modl, Borg, Rysanek... all greats in their own unique ways. I wouldn't say one is better than the other or any is 'unfulfilled' just because I prefer another. They were all special and individualistic.

Varnay was The Wulkure Brunhilde after Flagstad's reign, but her voice changed (some call it 'uglified'... it got edgy and wobbly on top) and in later years she took on Wagner/Strauss mezzo roles and then the character roles like Beckbig in 'Mahoggony' instead while Nilssen continued on as the premium dramatic soprano. I don't think anyone has bettered Varnay's portrayal of Ortrud or Klytamnestra (and Elektra... if you've heard the 1953 recording with Klaus) yet.

This box set is a good highlights of Varnay's many Wagnerian roles in her good soprano voice years and beautifully conducted by her husband Herr Hermann Weigert (including arias from La Forza del Destino, Un Ballo in Maschera (in Italian and German versions), an aria by Beethoven, and Wagner's songs and opera scenes from The Ring (no Hojotoho), Tristan und Isolde (with a searing 'Narrative and Curse' and 2 versions of Liebestod).

There are 3 CDs in tight fitting paper envelopes (no case). A neat little booklet with a note of her career (and photos with Windgassen) comes with it ... no libretto given.

PS: if you haven't read it yet, her autobiography (55 years in 5 acts) is a must read."
Smorgy | 08/27/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Astrid Varnay was born a few weeks earlier than Birgit Nilsson. Astrid Varnay was also Swedish just like Birgit Nilsson!! But Varnay's career started much earlier than birgit Nilsson's career. Varnay made her debut in 1941 as Sieglinde at the Metropolitan opera. She stood in for Lotte Lehmann - no less - and that afternoon was supposed to be a broadcast. So at age 23, she was thrown into the limelight and her performance was broadcast to millions - a copy of the broadcast is available. But news of her bombing was overshadowed by news of the bombing of Pearl Habor the next day. A few days later, the great Bruinnhilde Helen Traubel became sick and Astrid Varnay stood in again, this time as Brunnhilde!! So at the tender age of 23 she started singing the most difficult Wagnerian roles on stage. She started training when young so by 23 she knew all the major Wagnerian soprano roles by heart!! She was to go on to sing Elektra - she debut at Carnegie Hall as Elektra with Mitropoulos in 1949, and sang Elektra again in 1952 with Fritz Reiner and in 1953 with Hermann Weigart on Radio (available on Koch Schwann and Gala labels). In 1953 she sang Salome. In 1951 she debut at Bayreuth as Brunnhilde and was to become one of the three great Brunnhildes at Bayreuth (together with Matha Modl and Birgit Nilsson). So she started singing Elektra at age 31!! On the other hand Birgit Nilsson made her operatic debut in 1946 and started singing Mozart and Verdi. Birgit Nilsson made her Bayreuth Debut in 1954 as Elsa in Lohengrin and sang her first Salome in 1954 in Sweden. Birgit Nilsson started singing Brunnhilde in 1955. Birgit Nilsson only tackled Elektra at age 46 in 1965. Astrid Varnay was one of the world's foremost dramatic soprano before Birgit Nilsson burst onto the world scene and became a huge star. Unfortunately for Astrid Varnay, Varnay started tackling roles like Elektra (which is a voice killer), Isolde and Brunnhilde at too young an age. This affacted her voice and her top notes did not last as long as Birgit Nilsson's top notes. Also, at the time that Birgit Nilsson recorded Brunnhilde and Isolde with Georg Solti, record companies like Decca, EMI etc. were reluctant to issue multiple opera sets for consumers to enjoy - so once Birgit Nilsson recorded the role, there was no market left for Varnay. It was really unfortunate for Astrid Varnay because she is an exceptionally outstanding dramatic soprano. In her prime, she was as good as Birgit Nilsson matching Birgit Nilsson's vocal power (except Birgit Nilsson's top notes which nobody could match). There are probably no sopranos today who can match Astrid Varnay. I tell this story so that you know who is Varnay and why she is relatively unknown even though she is such an outstanding singer. Fortunately for us, she recorded this set of Wagner with DG and DG is right in issuing them. Here, you can listen to her outstanding artistry - no less legendary than Birgit Nilsson's. Her 1953 Salome is available on Orfeo and her 1953 Elektra is available on Koch Schwann and Gala. If you listen to these recordings, you will realize that all her top notes are attacked fearlessly and rock-solid, full of power. No squally singing of the kind we often hear today. In fact, you fear for her voice because (esp in her 1953 Elektra), it is very obvious she is giving her all - you can hear the voice being pushed to the limits - which is very thrilling but which also explains why her dramatic soprano career was considerably shortened whereas Birgit Nilsson enjoyed longevity as Brunnhilde, Isolde, Elektra and Salome.So do I recommend this set? Yes, this is a set of treasure. Astrid Varnay in her prime in 1954 and 1955. In this set of CD, you get Varnay's scene with Siegmund in "Die Walkure". You get the whole of Varnay's "Siegfried" You get her Brunnhilde prologue scene of "Gotterdammerung" and the complete narrative and Immolation scene at the end of Gotterdammerung. You get 65 minutes of her Isolde - the Act 1 Narrative and Curse, Act 2 singing with tristan, Act 3 Liebestod. You get Beethoven's Ah Perfido! and Wagner's Wessendock Lieder. And you get a bunch of Verdi arias from Ballo and La Forza. This set is a great treasure and mandatory for opera lovers. Sound quality is superb. Astrid Varnay's artistry is at the highest possible level. I also recommend very very highly her 1953 Elektra with Koch Schwann - the sound in that Elektra set is super-clear and the performance (with Leonie Rysanek as Chrysothemis) is one of the great performances to be set alongside Birgit Nilsson's Elektra with Solti. Indeed, Astrid Varnay is the equal of Birgit Nilsson. Her 1953 Salome is also nothing less than stunning. It is regretful that Varnay didn't record much. Kudos to DG for releasing this valuable set of exceprts. No Wagner lover should be without this."
One of the greatest treasures of the classical catalogue
Smorgy | 11/04/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The hugely underrated and hugely underrecorded great dramatic soprano Astrid Varnay in one of her very few commercial recordings. Here we hear Varnay at her peak as Brunnhilde and Isolde in superb recorded sound. It's so sad that her full Isolde, Brunnhilde, Elektra and Salome were not recorded commercially. Thankfully, we have radio recordings of her full Isolde, Brunnhilde, Salome and Elektra. In the excerpts on these recordings, she is better recorded than in all her other recordings. If you love opera and Birgit Nilsson, you must have this set."