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Astrid Varnay (1918 - 2006)

Both Varnay’s parents, who were Hungarian, were steeped in the world of opera: her father Alexander Varnay was a tenor and later an opera manager and stage director, while her mother, Maria Yavor Varnay, was a coloratura soprano. At the time Varnay (real name Ibolyka Maria) was born, her parents were running a company called the Opera Comique, established in Oslo and performing in Stockholm in 1918; its members included Kirsten Flagstad.

The family moved to Argentina in 1922 and then on to New York where Varnay’s father worked as a stage director at the Manhattan Opera House before dying unexpectedly in 1924. Two years later her mother remarried, to the tenor Fortunato de Angelis, and they settled in Jersey City. Varnay studied to become a pianist, but at eighteen decided to change to singing, working intensively on vocal technique with her mother. In 1937 (under the pseudonym Ines Melani) she sang Ines / Il trovatore opposite her mother as Leonora at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Flagstad arranged for her to begin preparing roles with Hermann Weigert, then a staff conductor and coach with the Metropolitan Opera. By 1941, when Varnay auditioned for Edward Johnson, manager of the Met, she could speak five languages (Hungarian, German, English, French and Italian) and had a repertoire of fifteen parts, eleven of which were major Wagnerian roles.




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