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On the occasion of her 80th birthday on 1 September 2021

Happy Birthday Julia Varady

In the interview given by Julia Varady and her husband Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Deutsche Oper Berlin Varady described how, whenever she is driving past the opera house, she gets palpitations and feels an urge to go in. That was in 2012, 15 years after her surprise retirement, and the physical response she talked of reveals better than anything else her deep affinity with the Deutsche Oper Berlin – in the same way that an individual’s deep affection for a person or place never really dies.

From 1976, when she debuted in the Bismarckstrasse in Mascagni’s CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, right up to her final appearance in 1998 in a symphony concert, the Romanian-born Hungarian singer reigned as the undisputed prima donna of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, performing 18 roles in a total of 161 appearances. At a time when many ambitious singers followed a strategy of guesting at all the great venues, Varady chose to focus on two opera houses, in Munich and Berlin, where she soon built up a cult following.

Only superlatives can describe what Julia Varady achieved for the opera genre. Not only was she a diva whose vocal quality consistently delighted the connoisseurs; she was also an actress through and through, aiming for perfection not as an end in itself but with a view to the credible portrayal of her stage character. That is doubtless one reason why she faced up to the demands of theatre directors, her commitment as a player smoothing and warming audiences’ responses to many an edgy production.

In Berlin her prima donna charisma was also deployed in collaborations with controversial directors such as Hans Neuenfels, in whose legendary 1982 production of LA FORZA DEL DESTINO she sang the part of Leonora. Even more so than the works of Mozart and Wagner, it was Verdi’s operas that primarily attracted Varady at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, with the star singing heroines like Elisabetta in DON CARLO, Aida alongside her husband in 1982 and Amelia in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, her last new stage role in 1994. There was a reason for this: where Mozart demands precision and refinement and Wagner a faculty for larger-than-life emotion, Verdi composes for singers who can do both. Varady’s Amelia, Aida and Violetta are all women who display personality traits ranging from fragility and timidity to huge self-sacrifice.

 

To this day many followers of opera regret Julia Varady’s abrupt retirement, which came on the heels of a falling out with Götz Friedrich, who had earmarked her to sing Senta in his new production of DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER. By way of compensation we can still savour the many, albeit scattered, recordings that testify to her stature as a brilliant singer.

Today we congratulate Julia Varady on her 80th birthday. And the next time she’s passing the Deutsche Oper we sincerely hope she’ll listen to her heart and pay us a visit.

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