During Birgit Nilsson’s long operatic career, many performances were recorded and studio recordings were made of her in title roles.
Metropolitan Opera Archives
Birgit at a television talk-show in Hamburg.
Her career paralleled the development of recording techniques, and thus much has been saved. She made many recordings for different companies, TV stations, radio etc. Some of Decca and Philips recordings of the operas of Wagner and Richard Strauss with Birgit in the title role can be counted among the most excellent.
The first record
Birgit Nilsson’s first record was recorded as early as spring of 1947. It was Estrella’s aria from Franz Berwald’s Estrella de Soria. The recording was a commission from Swedish Radio.
The first recording contract
In the 1950’s, Birgit signed a recording contract with the company HMV, ”His Masters Voice,” in London. They offered her aria and duet recordings, as well as all three Brünnhildes in Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner. The first record was made in London in 1957, and contained both German and Italian arias. The second was recorded in 1958 and contained German arias. But Der Ring des Nibelungen was never recorded. After the contract with HMV, Birgit never again signed an exclusive contract.
The Productive 60’s
During the 1960’s. Birgit made complete recordings of, among others, Beethoven’s Fidelio, Verdi’s Aida, Un ballo in maschera, Macbeth and Weber’s Der Freischütz. Several of her legendary recordings were made during this period. A classic is Georg Solti’s and the recording company Decca’s 7-year-long studio recording of Der Ring des Nibelungen, with Birgit Nilsson as Brünnhilde. The recording session started in 1958. Solti’s version of Richard Strauss’ Elektra is another classic. Many critics have called this version the best operatic recording of all time. Another appreciated recording of Der Ring des Nibelungen was made during the festival in Bayreuth, with Birgit Nilsson as Brünnhilde. Karl Böhm conducted. This recording is said to have been one of Birgit’s personal favorites. Another legendary live recording from Bayreuth is Tristan and Isolde with Birgit Nilsson and Wolfgang Windgassen, also conducted by Karl Böhm.
Birgit on studio recordings
"A warm voice, not too large, well-balanced and not too expansive in the heights, is perfectly suited for microphones. If this is not so – as in my case– the voice presents a problem for the sound engineer. For a dramatic soprano like mine, with great carrying power and expansive high tones, the same instruction was used as in the turn of the century. For high tones– please take three steps backwards! Despite constant three-step jumps backwards and forewards, there was a lack of overtones in the high voice due to the reduction in volume."
– Birgit Nilsson in her autobiography La Nilsson, 1995.
Birgit Nilsson’s discography contains everything from live performance recordings and entire operas to solo recordings, romances and Swedish songs. At The Birgit Nilsson Prize's website, there's a list of a selection of Birgit Nilsson’s extensive discography: www.birgitnilssonprize.org