Critics and fans
On stage, Birgit Nilsson was pure in tone, dramatic and had a formidable presence. During her long career she received many glowing reviews in papers the world over, and she was honored several times with standing ovations long after she had left the stage.
Birgit is signing autographs after a concert in 1982. Photo: Lars Persson
Birgit is signing her book in 1979. Private photo.
Birgit surrounded by fans in Buenos Aires, September 1971. Private photo.
After Birgit’s debut as Agathe at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm 1946, Folke Hähnel wrote in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter ”This young lady is blessed with an unusually beautiful soprano that will probably develop into a dramatic soprano. One seeks in vain for any admonitions to give her. The eveness of her register is surprisingly good for a beginner; the voice is well-placed with no ambient noise... ... That she seemed a bit impatient with sitting still can be the result of a dramatic temperament; that the future will tell.”
Birgit’s successes outside of Sweden
It was not only her mother country Sweden that people were amazed at the new singer’s talent. After the opening of Brünnhilde in Vienna, Herbert Schneider wrote in Neuem Kurier ”Birgit Nilsson’s Brünnhilde was both acoustically and visually ideal. A dramatic soprano with such complete vocal power, brilliance and expressiveness that will make its way into the category ’Once upon a time...’ “ Birgit came to love Vienna and the Viennese love Birgit. Her voice was seen as legendary, and she was named as the successor to their greatest star ever, Maria Jeritza. Both critics and colleagues had good things to say about Birgit Nilsson. The world famous conductor Karl Böhm once said to Birgit, ”When you stop singing, then I will also stop conducting!” Wieland Wagner said on one occasion, ”Nilsson was famous before she became great”, in reference to her debut at the Metropolitan. Ernest Newman was one of the leading music critics in the world. He wrote a review in the Sunday Times after one of Birgit’s guest performances at Covent Garden. He wrote: ”I am glad to have had the opportunity to live long enough to hear and see a young Brünnhilde, so mature yet holding such promise for the future, as does Birgit Nilsson.”
Commemoratives from around the world
Birgit is signing an autographs for a young admirer. Private photo.
After the news of Birgit Nilsson’s death in 2005 had spread around the world, many articles were written about the opera singer’s life. Friends, colleagues, heads of opera houses and fans spoke to the press. Sweden’s King Carl XIV Gustaf issued a statement from the Royal Court: ”With Birgit Nilsson’s demise, Sweden has lost one of its greatest artists. Those who have had the privilege of experiencing her both on stage and in private will never forget it, not least her warm sense of humor. Thanks to the numerous recordings that exist, her voice has been saved for posterity. It is with gratefulness that we remember her art.” In the Berliner Morgenpost, music writer Klaus Geitel wrote ”She sang her way throughout her long, wonderful life into being a prominent figure in Wagnerian opera. But she was not only a singer of Wagner. She was Strauss’ Elektra. She was Puccini’s Turandot. She was brilliant in all rolls; fresh but vocally superior to most of her colleagues.” Enrico Girardi, respected music critic in the Italian Corriere della Sera, wrote ”She was one of the greatest dramatic sopranos ever. Her major weapon was her intelligence.” The New York Times wrote ”Her voice contained a greater pathos through the years, but one remembers its strength, precision and pure joy also through the most demanding circumstances.” The strength of Birgit’s voice was often noted. Many critics meant that Birgit Nilsson was made to perform on stage and that her voice was not done justice by studio recordings. The Guardian wrote that it seemed unlikely that Birgit Nilsson’s Isolde or Brünnhilde would ever be approached, not to mentioned surpassed.
An international star with a sense of humor
Among all the praise and beautiful commemorations, there are some that especially capture Birgit Nilsson’s artistry. Stefan Johansson wrote in Svenska Dagbladet ”It is easy to get caught up in superlatives about her voice, but above all, she was a great artist.” James Levine, chief conductor at the Metropolitan in 1973, said ”Birgit was unique. Her voice, her artistry, her sense of humor and her friendship stood in a class by themselves.”