Birgit Nilsson, one of the
supreme dramatic sopranos of the twentieth century, was born on May
17, 1918, on a farm in the town of Vastra Karup in southern Sweden.
She made her operatic debut on
October 9, 1946, as Agathe in Der Freischütz, with only 3 days
notice. The following year she made a notable debut at the Stockholm Royal Opera as
Macbeth. In 1951 she excited the Glyndebourne Festival as Elettra in Mozart's
It was in Munich during the
1954-55 season that she first sang the Ring Brünnhildes, and during
the same season she sang her first Salome. During the next two decades, she sang Elsa,
Sieglinde, Elisabeth, Isolde, and Senta, as well as Aida, Turandot, and Leonore in
Ms. Nilsson was highly regarded
for her interpretations of Elektra and Barak's Wife in Die Frau
ohne Schatten. Her important Italian roles included Tosca and Amelia in Un ballo
in maschera as
well as Aida and Turandot. She sang at all of the major opera centers of the world
Bayreuth and New York as well as Tokyo, Paris, Buenos Aires, Chicago, San Francisco,
and Hamburg. She also sang Turandot in Moscow with the Teatro alla Scala. When she was
her performance of Strauss' Elektra was videotaped at the Metropolitan Opera House and
broadcast around the world.
In addition to her full schedule
of opera performances, Ms. Nilsson also gave recitals at the
major music centers of Europe and North America, as well as tours of Australia and Japan.
recital programs concentrated on German and Scandinavian songs, and often included
favorites such as "I Could Have Danced All Night" as encores.
In 1954 Ms. Nilsson was named
"Hofsängerin" (Swedish Royal Court Singer), and in 1960 was
made a Life Member of the Swedish Music Academy. In 1981, she was the first woman in
than 200 years to be awarded the Medal "Illis quorum meruere labores" by the Swedish
government. Ms. Nilsson married Dr. Bertil Niklasson in 1948.
Her autobiography, Mina
Minnesbilder, was published in Stockholm in 1977; the English
translation, La Nilsson: My Life in Opera was released in 2007. She retired in
1984 to her
childhood home in southern Sweden, and died on December 25, 2005. The Birgit Nilsson
Foundation, which she personally funded, awards a prize of one million dollars every few
to a singer, conductor, or opera house for a specific production.
It has been noted that the voice
of Brigit Nilsson was brilliant, “like a laser beam that cut
through the orchestra.” Certainly, as long as the operas of Wagner are performed, the voice
Birgit Nilsson will be remembered and cherished. Happily all of her important roles have
preserved on recordings, including two versions of her Turandot, with Björling and Corelli
Calafs, for RCA and EMI.