Comments about Never before

The Vocal Record Collector's Society


We have had many unique program experiences at the VRCS, but nothing quite like Donald Collup's November evening entitled "Never before: The Life and First New York Career of Astrid Varnay", which, due to timing inefficiencies, we were unable to acknowledge in our last meeting. Donald's program consisted of a short introduction by himself, followed by a full two-hour documentary devoted to the great American soprano, with commentary throughout by Madame Varnay, this culled from an extended interview she had granted Donald about two years back (one of the very few interviews she has granted over the years and definitely the last one she intends to do!). The film was simply wonderful, and the closing of it was met with a veritable shouting ovation from VRCS attendees (the first time any of us can recollect that happening), both for Madame Varnay and Donald Collup. This was easily a PBS-quality film and, obviously, a labor of love on Donald's part. Indeed, word of mouth spread so quickly that he has already hosted a showing of it in Philadelphia and will be presenting it for Wagner societies on both coasts within a few months (for those who missed it at the VRCS, we will endeavor to provide adequate advance word when it is scheduled to be shown at the Wagner Society of New York). The enclosed program can only provide a cursory idea of the film's extraordinary scope in documentign such a phenomenal career. The amazing thing is that the two hours went by as one, and it took some mental adjustment to realize that the entire documentary really covered only the first THIRD of Varnay's career. Dare we hope that Donald (or some other enterprising opera enthusiast) is planning another two-hour film (or two two-hour films) to document the remainder of Madam Varnay's fifty-five years on the lyric stage? Anyhow, what we saw was just perfect - easily the equal of, or better than, any other documentary we have seen devoted to a great opera star. And, since we haven't mentioned it already, we might note that its showing at the VRCS constituted a world premiere, and we cannot adequately thank Donald Collup for allowing us the single honor. THANK YOU, DONALD COLLUP!!!

Joe Pearce


"I just wanted to add my two cents to the chorus of Hosannas I witnessed at the conclusion of your remarkable presentation at the V.R.C.S. You have created a work or art, a musical documentary about a performer in which the music is the paramount thing. The emotional arc of your presentation, beginning, middle and conclusion, is itself similar to a musical composition, as well as a lesson to the Ken Burns of the world that music cannot be served by a rapid succession of ten second sound bites"

"To accomplish this entirely in the service of Wagner and Strauss and Astrid Varnay, sustain interest for two hours, to have made it visually interesting without filmed performance footage, to have told an interesting story without resorting to details of her personal life except as affected her musical importance - this was quite an accomplishment and you have reason to be proud. It was a wonderful valentine to Varnay and one of the most enjoyable musical documentaries I have ever seen. Thank you for inviting me."

Gregor Benko


"I attended the premiere of Donald Collup's film, "Never Before", and was overwhelmed by this superb chronicle of Astrid Varnay's vocal history. The film, with its background of moving stars, is of high artistic quality, a richly detailed labor of love. It displays with rare audio excerpts and visually stunning images the scope of Varnay's vast repertory, telling the Diva's history in painstaking detail. The film, which I hope will receive the widest possible distribution, was also an emotional occasion for me personally: I happened to be at the Met on that fateful evening, Decemberr 6, 1941, when an indisposed Lotte Lehmann as Sieglinde was replaced by this young woman who (it was later disclosed) had never set foot on an opera stage, listening with growing excitement to the unfolding of that incredible voice whose owner was identified as a total unknown, name of Astrid Varnay, recently a frequent member of the Met's standing room herself. Donald Collup's film is nothing short of magnificent as a documentary of one of the great voices of our recent time."

Peter Lynn


"I so thoroughly enjoyed and was so moved by Donald Collup's tribute to Astrid Varnay that I immediately suggested to my friend Nathalie Wagner, President of the Wagner Society of New York, that she present Donald and this beautiful and sensitively-produced video as a special event at one of the Society's Spring evenings. I look forward greatly to seeing it again. The program strikes one as a labor-of-love and dedication - it really brings to the forefront the majesty of Varnay's voice, humanity, and art. I completely and enthusiastically recommend the Varnay program for your consideration. Sincerely,

Lew Grenville


"The remarkable Donald Collup has produced an amazing documentary called ³Never Before,² detailing the early years of the career of Astrid Varnay. Donald will offer the premiere screening of this film at The Vocal Record Collectorıs Society on Friday, November 12 at 520 Park Avenue at 8:00 PM. The documentary includes commentary by la Varnay (recorded last year) on such varied topics as her vocal training, her theory of acting, and her surprise Met debut, plus candid comments on colleagues ranging from Ljuba Welitsch to Teresa Stratas.

Highlighting this presentation is a collection of examples of Varnayıs singing culled from live performances 1941-1955. For more information on "Never Before," go to Donaldıs web site."

James Jorden


The Opera Club, Philadelphia

"Donald Collup presented his magnificent film about Astrid Varnay's first career at the Metropolitan Opera Saturday morning at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia in a program sponsored by the Opera Club. Let me be up front and announce I am the club's president. My opinion, therefore, may be biased. That admitted, I will say that Never Before, as the film is called, documents in loving detail Varnay's Met career, from her sensational debut as a last-minute substitute for Lotte Lehmann as Sieglinde in 1941 to her leaving the the U.S. for Europe 15 years later. Collup weaves together into a seamless whole his interview with Varnay in 2003 with 20 sound recordings, newspaper and magazine clippings, and some 200 photographs. He has produced a riveting film about the great dramatic soprano who was born in Sweden to Hungarian parents and grew up in the United States. Without any videos, Collup masterfully suggests a sense of visual movement through his manipulation of photographs. The film unfolds seamlessly and in loving detail as it relates Varnay's biography. It also captures her artistic integrity and documents her vocal artistry. The rare photographs, most of them autographed by the singer, are gathered from the Metropolitan Opera archives and from generous collectors noted in the credits. They provide a stunning visual documentation of Varnay's career. The audience sat transfixed through this two-hour film and stayed in their seats for a question and answer session following the screening. Collup will present Never Before to Wagner Societies in San Francisco and Washington in April. If you live in or near those two cities, do not miss this superb film. And if you belong to an organization that can present this film, by all means make the effort to bring it to your city. Contact me, and I will put you in touch with Donald Collup. Never Before ranks as one of the great video biographies of a singer."

Robert Baxter


The Wagner Society of Northern California

The Wagner Society of Northern California hosted Donald Collup with is EXTRAORDINARY documentary "Never Before" - The first Met Career of Astrid Varnay.

The film is really the best multi-media essay I could imagine - all about the opera business, the art of singing, building a career and a truly remarkable singer's career. Collup's work is meticulously crafted with so many delightful touches that it would probably take the length of the film to describe it. Collup masterfully wove together image, narration, Madame Varnay's recollections and spectacular audio documentation of her singing. WOW! It is obvious that here are literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours work in this film! I especially loved the juxaposition of the images of Flagstad's Bruennhilde and Varnay's Sieglinde in Act III Walkuere as their voices soared. WOW!

You couldn't ask for a more appreciative audience for such a film. Not only is Madame Varnay an honorary member of the Wagner Society of Northern California - we boast a current active member whose name is ASTRID VARNEY - and the *other* Astrid was present for the film. Both Astrids resided in the same European city for a time, causing mild uproar when Astrid VarnEy would show up for appointments, staff expecting the *other* Astrid.

After the film some of the members of the Board hosted Donald and other guests to a wonderful supper, more reminiscing and opera talk and the opportunity to relax.

I know that Collup will do additional screenings. There will be one for the Wagner Society of New York later this month. DO YOURSELF A FAVOR - GO SEE THIS FILM. Donald Collup has really done himself as well as Madame Varnay PROUD with this gorgeous film.

Also - in the film credits I noted Opera-l'er Mike Richter's name. What a surprise!

Terri Stuart


I was overwhelmed. I really didn't know that it would be something of such scope and polish. It was a very intimate presentation too, I felt very close to the narration and the artists - you among them.

The melding of the pictures with the excerpts was perfect and the final dissolve from Isolde to Astrid Varnay today left me in tears.

Thank you.

Joe Fuller

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