Birgit Nilsson was known as the leading Wagner soprano of her time. But she also sang many other great soprano roles in operas of Strauss, Mozart, Puccini and Verdi.
Salome 1965. Metropolitan Opera Archives
Isolde 1959. Metropolitan Opera Archives
Following her debut in 1947 at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm, Birgit was offered a permanent contract there in the autumn of 1948. Her first international performance was in Glyndebourne in 1951, as Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo, on the recommendation of Fritz Busch. In 1958 her contract with the Royal Swedish Opera was altered to a guest performance contract due to Birgit’s international successes and increasing number of roles abroad. During the 1950’s Birgit studied new parts at a fearful pace. She had soon worked her way through a large opera and oratory repertoire from Mozart and Beethoven to Bartók and Hindemith. From the 1960’s onwards, she concentrated on some dozen roles in operas of Wagner, Verdi, Strauss, Mozart and Puccini. Throughout her long career, Birgit performed on the greatest opera stages in the world. She worked with influential directors and the elite of the world’s singers. She also worked with several of the greatest conductors, such as Erich Kleiber, Herbert von Karajan, Georg Solti, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Hans Knappertsbusch and Karl Böhm. Birgit Nilsson’s ability to interpret a part grew with time, and she became a gripping actress as well as an acclaimed singer. She is especially associated with Richard Strauss’ Elektra and was for many years the most sought-after interpreter of Puccini’s Turandot. Her own personal favorite was Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. The critics were in agreement that a number of the most demanding, dramatic roles in opera seem to have been written specifically for Birgit Nilsson.