The voice

Birgit Nilsson’s voice was unique, with an enormous strength and impact in the high register. But she not only had her special way of singing, she also had a distinctive speaking voice. Birgit felt that her voice was her identification card, recognized by most and imitated by many.

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Photo: Rolf Klänge.

Birgit was born with an enormous vocal capacity which she largely learned to master on her own. During the 1960’s and -70’s she was the leading Wagner soprano in the world. A Wagner soprano must be physically well-trained and have a powerful voice to be able to perform for 4-5 hours and to be heard over the orchestra. The high notes were Birgit’s strongest side, and she did not have to strain in order to bring them forth. Birgit sang, to the delight of the critics, difficult passages in a light and natural manner, thanks to her top register. Her ”unique vocal strength and breathing technique made it possible for her to sustain perfect high notes for almost unnatural lengths of time”, said the British Daily Telegraph. Music critic John von Rein praised Birgit Nilsson’s ”irrepressible, voluminous sound, inhuman perseverance and steely vocal brilliance. Once having heard it, Birgit Nilsson’s distinctive soprano was unforgettable. It was more a force of nature than a voice” he wrote in the Chicago Tribune. Birgit retained her vocal strength and stability for many years, allowing her to have a long career.

Her voice was her passport

In 1995, Birgit Nilsson published her memoirs in the book La Nilsson. Later, the book was released on CD, with Birgit herself narrating. Below you can listen to a passage from the recording in Swedish, in which Birgit speaks about her unique vocal quality. This recording is available through the kind permission of Bonnier Audio.