Märta Birgit Nilsson  

Märta Birgit Nilsson was born on May 17, 1918 in Västra Karup. Birgit was an only child, but Karin, who first came to Svenstad for the summers and later stayed several years, was almost like a sister to Birgit. Here is Birgit at 3, together with Karin.

The family farm  

Birgit’s parental home was owned by her family for seven generations. Both the farm in Svenstad and its history, as well as many of the people who influenced Birgit as a child, contributed to her interest in her native tract.

The parental home  

The farm in Svenstad has been carefully restored to house the Birgit Nilsson Museum.

Mother and father  

Birgit’s parents Nils and Justina, in the garden at home in Svenstad.

School years  

In 1925, Birgit began her studies at the elementary school in Svenstad. Birgit impressed her teachers, especially in writing and singing. She graduated with top grades in every subject. Birgit is sitting in the middle row, number 6 from the left, in a light-colored dress.

Further studies  

Birgit together with her friends in the village school, in which grades 3-6 were taught together. Birgit stands in the middle of the back row.


In 1933, Birgit was confirmed in the church of Västra Karup. At that time, confirmation was an important part of a young girl’s life, symbolizing her entrance into adulthood. Birgit is sitting on the far right in the second row from the bottom.


In 1940, Birgit began studying at finishing school on the west coast of Sweden in Ljungkile. Here is Birgit on the far right of the middle row, together with her classmates.


Thinning out the beets was a constantly recurring job during the summers. It was hard work. Birgit longed to get away from all this. She longed for the world of music, but scarcely dared share her dreams. ”People might think I was stuck-up”, she revealed later on in her memoirs.

Birgit sits on the far left.

The Royal College of Music in Stockholm  

At age 23, Birgit applied to the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. During 1941-1946 she studied both in the solo vocalist class and the Opera school at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.

The Royal College of Music in Stockholm  

Birgit’s acceptance notice to the Royal College of Music. Of the 47 applicants that year, only two were accepted, of which Birgit was number 1.

Her first performance gown  

Birgit Nilsson’s first performance gown was sewn in Stockholm for a jubilee at the Stock Exchange building in 1942. Sweden’s King Gustaf VI Adolf was among the guests. The fee paid to Birgit was 50 crowns, but the dress cost three times that amount.

Her debut  

On October 9,1946, Birgit Nilsson made her opera debut at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm, as Agathe in Weber’s Der Freischütz. The director was Anders Henrikson and Leo Blech conducted.

Her debut  

The role list from the Opera program for Birgit Nilsson’s debut in 1946.


In 1947, Birgit made her first real triumph at the Royal Opera, as Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth. Hans Busch directed and Fritz Busch conducted. Ten performances were given within 3 weeks.


Here is Birgit Nilsson in the dressing room at the Opera together with Anna-Greta Söderholm. After her success as Lady Macbeth, her career took off and Birgit received attention even outside of Scandinavia.


Birgit Nilsson and Bertil Niklasson were married on September 10, 1948. The marriage took place at the Swedish church in Copenhagen. They first met on a train ride between Scania and Stockholm in January 1945. Their engagement took place in 1947 in Nice.


As often as Birgit and her husband could manage, they spent their free time near Birgit’s home in Scania. Here they are seen taking a walk in Båstad in 1960.


Here Birgit and Bertil are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in Bangkok.

The Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm  

Birgit was contracted as a soloist at Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm from 1948 until 1958. After that she often returned as a guest artist at the Opera until 1980. Here she is seen as Senta in Der fliegende Holländer 1949, one of her first roles at the Stockholm Opera.

”Senta has always been one of my favorite roles. Whenever I come to the phrase ”Ich bin ein Kind und weiss nicht was ich singe”, I always fear that the audience will burst out laughing. I have never really had the proper aura of naive childishness”, wrote Birgit in her book My Memoirs in Pictures 1977.

The Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm  

Birgit performed almost all her roles for the first time at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm. Exceptions were Elettra, Leonora and Amelia.

Here Birgit prepares for a performance of Götterdämmerung in 1954.

The Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm  

In 1954 Birgit made her debut as Salome at the Royal Swedish Opera. The performance was a success, and Salome-fever strikes Sweden. That same year Birgit Nilsson is named Singer of the Swedish Royal Court.

”A great part for me”, said Birgit herself of Salome. But initially she was totally opposed to singing it. Here is Birgit as Salome at the Opera in Stockholm. Salome quickly became one of her show-piece roles.

The Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm  

In 1976, Birgit Nilsson celebrated her 30th anniversary at the Opera with a performance of Isolde. Here she is hailed on stage after a performance in 1977.

Next stop – Europe  

In 1951, Birgit makes her first foreign appearance at a concert in Berlin, Germany. She sings Sieglinde in the first act of Die Walküres.

Next stop – Europe  

In 1951, Birgit makes her first international opera performance, as Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo, in Glyndebourne, England.

The Bayreuth and Vienna years  

In 1953, Birgit Nilsson makes her concert debut at Bayreuther Festspielhaus, as soprano soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

The Bayreuth and Vienna years  

Bayreuth is the stronghold for the Wagner Opera Festival. Birgit Nilsson participated in this pageant during 16 summers, until 1970, with the exception of 1965 when the Ring was performed.

Here she is as Elsa in Lohengrin for her opera debut in Bayreuth 1954.

The Bayreuth and Vienna years  

In 1954 Birgit Nilsson makes her debut at the Staatoper in Vienna. She made guest appearances there in several different roles during 1954-1982. Vienna held a special place in Birgit’s heart.
Here is Birgit as Isolde in 1967.

The same year Birgit performs for the first time at the Munich Opera (then the Prinzregenten
Theater), in the role of Aida.

Songs for her home town  

Birgit Nilsson loved her home town. It was this love that made her give over 40 benefit concerts during half a century, arranged by the local history society of Bjäre Härad.

In 1955 Birgit Nilsson took part in the first concert to benefit the local history society, in the church at Båstad. It was a huge success for Birgit, who at that time had not yet reached the peak of her fairy tale-like career. Later on, these Birgit Nilsson concerts were held in the church at Västra Karup.

Here Birgit is seen at a concert in Västra Karup’s church in 1977.

Songs for her home town  

Birgit during one of many concerts in Västra Karup’s church to benefit the local history society of Bjäre Härad. The picture is from 1979, the same year that Lars Roos made his debut as Birgit’s accompanist for the concert.

Songs for her home town  

Before every concert at home in Bjäre, press conferences were arranged in the open-air museum of the local history society. It was towards the development of this park that the benefit concerts were held. At the press conferences, Birgit naturally was the star. She often surprised both writers and photographers, as when she discovered the swings at the park playgrounds and immediately went over to have a try.

The world opens up  

In 1955, Birgit Nilsson made her debut at the Teatro Colón in Buenes Aires, as Isolde. Birgit fell in love with Argentina and made many good friends there.

Here is a picture from 1967, at one of Birgit´s later visits in Buenos Aires.

The world opens up  

In 1957, Birgit made her debut at Covent Garden in London as Brünnhilde in the Ring.

The world opens up  

No other foreign singer had ever opened a season at La Scala. Birgit herself felt it to be one of the greatest events of her life.

The world opens up  

On December 7, 1958, Birgit Nilsson opened the season at La Scala in Milan as Turandot.

The Met  

On December 18, 1959, Birgit Nilsson made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, as Isolde. The première was noted by the press all over the world, and is seen as one of Birgit Nilsson’s greatest successes.

The Met  

Opening night at the Met was one of the greatest moments in Birgit Nilsson’s fairy tale-like career. The next day, journalists, television- and radio crews queued outside her apartment in New York in order to interview the sta

The Met  

Salome was the only role that Birgit herself requested throughout her career. In 1965, Rudolf Bing at the New York Met offered her a new study for the role.

The Met  

Birgit returned frequently to perform at the Met. In 1963 she opened the season with Aida.

The Met  

In 1967, a new study was made for Birgit’s 100th Brünnhilde in Die Walküre at the Metropolitan in New York.

Towards the end of her career  

Birgit Nilsson has especially been remembered for her role in Richard Strauss’ Elektra. Her final opera performance ever was with Elektra in Frankfurt on June 16, 1982.

In 1965, Birgit performed her first Elektra at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm. Here is a picture from the performance that year. She waited a long time before attempting the role.

Towards the end of her career  

In 1975, Birgit Nilsson studied the final role of her repertory, Die Färberin in Die Frau Ohne Schatten at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm.

1965 sjöng Birgit sin första Elektra på Kungliga Operan i Stockholm. Här är en bild från föreställningen det året. Hon väntade länge med att ta sig an rollen.

After her opera career  

Birgit’s last public performance was with a concert tour in Germany in 1984.

Birgit’s career was impressively long. She performed at opera- and concert houses throughout the world for almost 40 years. After retiring from the world of opera, she was able to increase her involvement for her home town in Sweden. There she continued arranging concerts to benefit the local historical society.

After her opera career  

In 2002, the last Birgit Nilsson concert took place in the church at Västra Karup. Here is Birgit together with the artists who performed that year. As part of the tradition at these church concerts, all the singers gathered on stage to sing a finale of Auld Lang Syne together with the audience.

Her final resting place  

On Christmas day, December 25, 2005, Birgit Nilsson passed away at 87 years of age.

Throughout the world, obituaries were written in the press. ”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”, wrote King Carl XVI Gustaf in a statement issued from the Swedish court.

Birgit was buried beside her mother and father in the cemetery of Västra Karup in Scania. It was a quiet and solemn funeral with only her family and closest friends attending.

Her memory lives on  

In 2009, the Birgit Nilsson Prize was awarded for the first time. The first recipient was Plácido Domingo, who was chosen several years previously by Birgit personally. The prize is awarded every second or third year, and goes to someone who has done something extraordinary in the art of the opera, in a large sense. The Birgit Nilsson Prize is today the world’s largest prize in the area of classical music.

Her memory lives on  

In 2010, Birgit’s beloved family home Svenstad was made into a museum. Birgit Nilsson’s involvement and interest in her home town lead her to request in her testament that her parental home be preserved as a place of remembrance.