Julia Varady is a highly respected soprano who has had a major European career and considerable success elsewhere.
She comes from a fabled part of Rumania that used to belong to Hungary and is home to most of Rumania's ethnic Hungarian population. She studied at the Conservatory in Cluj (formerly Klausenberg), then at the conservatory in the capital city of Bucharest.
She returned to Cluj and in 1960 gained a contract with the Cluj Opera and quickly was given the leading roles in the lyric-dramatic repertory, including Judith in Bluebeard's Castle, Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, Butterfly in Madama Butterfly (after originally playing the short part of Kate Pinkerton), the Marriage of Figaro (in which she sang, at various times, all three soprano roles), Turandot (as Liù), Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana, and Desdemona in Verdi's Otello. During this period she also made guest appearances at the National Opera of Bucharest and in Budapest, Hungary.
In 1970 she joined the company of the Frankfurt-am-Main Opera House at the invitation of its music director, Christoph von Dohnanyi and continued to expand her already large repertory, singing Margarethe in Gounod's Faust, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, Antonio in Tales of Hoffman, and the Young Maiden in a historic performance of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, among other parts. In guest appearances in Cologne she had a large success as Violetta in Traviata.
She spent the 1972 - 1973 season with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich following a highly successful appearance in the Munich Festival as Vitellia in Mozart's Clemenza di Tito. As a member of that company she had a triumphal portrayal of Elettra in the same composer's Idomeneo and added Senta in Flying Dutchman and Aïda to her repertory.
During those same years she sang with the leading baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, to whom she was married in 1974. (Their son Martin Fischer-Dieskau began a conducting career in the 1990s.)
By now Varady was appearing at the major international operatic venues and continuing to add important roles to her repertory. She sang at the Edinburgh Festival, Salzburg Festival and other international summer events. Her notable debuts included the Deutsche Opera Berlin in 1978 (Countess in Nozze di Figaro), Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1982, Aïda), Metropolitan Opera (1977 - 1978 season as Donna Elvira), and in the newly opened Bastille Opera in Paris in 1995 (Abigaille in Verdi's Nabucco).
She sang all the major roles in operas of Mozart and Verdi, several Puccini and Strauss roles (Composer, Arabella, and the Empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten), and such other parts as Orfeo and Alceste in Gluck's operas, Yaroslavna in Prince Igor, Micaëla in Carmen, Handel's Ariodante, Adele in Rossini's Le Comte Ory and the title role in his Cenerentola, Beethoven's Leonora, and the Tchaikovsky roles of Tatyana in Eugene Onegin and Lisa in Queen of Spades.
She has had particular success in Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle singing opposite Fischer-Dieskau. The husband and wife team also scored a major success in Aribert Reiman's opera Lear, with Fischer-Dieskau in the title role and Varady as Cordelia, in Spontini's Olympie, and in Halévy's La juive.