The roles

Birgit Nilsson had up to 25 different roles in her repertoire. Even early-on in her career, she mastered several of the greatest roles for dramatic sopranos. Some of her most famous roles were Wagner’s Isolde and Brünnhilde, Puccini’s Turandot as well as Strauss’ Elektra and Salome.

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Turandot 1961. Photo: Fayer, Vienna

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Donna Anna in Don Juan 1948. The Royal Swedish Opera. Photo Enar Merkel Rydberg

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Amelia in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. Metropolitan Opera Archives.

Birgit Nilsson’s first roll was Agathe in Der Freischütz in 1946 and the last role she studied for was that of Die Färberin in Die Frau ohne Schatten 1975. She made almost all of her role debuts at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm. Exceptions were Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo, Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio and Amelia in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. Throughout her long career Birgit sang many different and varied roles: Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth, Donna Anna in Don Juan, Elsa in Lohengrin, Elisabeth and Venus in Tannhäuser, Lisa in Pikovaja Dama, Senta in Der fliegende Holländer, Sieglinde in Die Walküre, Penelope in Liebermann’s opera of the same name, Ursula in Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler etc. She also made strong interpretations of such roles as Aida, Tosca and Feldmarschallin in Der Rosenkavalier.

Brünnhilde

During her career Birgit Nilsson sang several of the roles in Nibelungenlied; Sieglinde in Die Walküre, and Brünnhilde in Siegfried, Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung. Brünnhilde in Die Walküre was one of her show-piece roles. Read more

Tosca

In 1951 Birgit Nilsson sang her first Tosca at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm. Throughout her career she sang this role several times with many of the world’s most famous tenors. Read more

Isolde

Isolde in Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde was one of Birgit Nilsson’s show-piece roles. As many as 208 performances of Isolde were performed during her almost 40-year long career. Read more

Turandot

Birgit Nilsson was legendary as the cruel princess Turandot. She sang the part more than 300 times throughout her career and for fifteen to twenty years she had nearly a monopoly on the role on the opera stages of the world. Read more

Elektra

Richard Strauss’ Elektra was a role that Birgit Nilsson had been warned about early on. One said that ”whoever attempts such a voice-murdering role as Elektra will shorten their career by many years”. Read more

Die Färberin

It took many years to convince Birgit Nilsson to sing the role of the Die Färberin in Richard Strauss’ opera Die Frau ohne Schatten. Die Färberin was also the last major role study in Birgit’s repertoire. Read more

Salome

Princess Salome in Richard Strauss’ opera was another of Birgit Nilsson’s show-piece roles. After her role debut in Stockholm, the entire town was struck with Salome-fever. Read more