In Birgit’s own words

Birgit Nilsson loved to tell stories, both as a child and as an adult. With a strong portion of empathy and full of anecdotes, she gladly talked about her life as an opera singer.


Birgit is writing a postcard to her family in Sweden. Private photo.

One of Birgit Nilsson’s greatest personal interests were the around 40 charity concerts that she gave at the church in her home town of Västra Karup. Before these engagements, she often wrote something for the program pamphlet. Here follows an excerpt from such a program.

I have the entire world as my place of work

”When this was written, I was sitting on a plane from Montreal–Stockholm. Since I left Sweden on March 28, 1967, I have travelled around the world and performed on the most important stages in both the western and eastern hemispheres, lived in 18 different hotels, spent five nights on airplanes, sang on 14 different stages for 67,000 people. After a trip like this it would be nice to stay at home, relax, meet old friends and enjoy the wonderful days at the beginning of the Swedish summer. Unfortunately this is not possible. A two-year old contract must be fulfilled. The audience expects me in Vienna and must not be disappointed. (...) But once in Vienna, all thoughts of vacation have evaporated, and I am enjoying myself again. New work and a new audience await, and one has to focus on further successes. One must always be better than the last time when returning to the different stages of the world. Competition is murderous and idleness is seen as stagnation. In other words, it is to no avail to have once conquered the Metropolitan, La Scala, or Covent Garden. One has to with each engagement, yes even with every note, time and again prove one’s capability.”

It is hard work, but never boring

”There are advantages to having the entire world as your place of work. It never gets commonplace. Life pulsates in rapid tempo. You meet new people all the time, take in new impressions, and have new experiences. To be sure, after a time you get slightly blasé for each and every thing that happens. It is not easy to remember, if you met the influential Mrs. Honey in Boston or in Washington. It is not easy to remember which dress you wore at the previous concert in Miami. Imagine what a tidbit it is for an American journalist to be able to write ‘Birgit Nilsson performed in her usual blue lamé dress.’ It is a strain to appear for a shorter time in each place, not only considering all the travelling and packing to do, but also because the same sort of ritual must take place in every new town one arrives in. There are reception committees at the airport with TV-cameras and journalists ready to jump into the fray. Then a quick trip to the hotel to unpack and change for the press conference. (...) At the beginning of my travels, I used to always awaken slightly confused in the mornings, before I could find the light switch, and before I could remember where I was. I stopped that a long time ago. Now I just wake up. I never cease to be amazed what creatures of habit humans are. The body learns to adapt quickly to different climates, seasons etc. I myself had up until 29 years of age never travelled outside of Scandinavia. I used to feel sick from the change of climate between Scania and Stockholm. Now I am not even affected by the change between a radiant day in Buenos Aires and a rainy October day in Stockholm.”

I have a wonderful profession

”I have a wonderful profession. You are longed-for and welcome wherever you arrive, and everyone does their best to make you feel at home. Yes, quite possibly, after a while you get rather spoiled. When singing before an appreciative audience and feeling their enthusiasm, then no efforts have been too great. It may be hard for outsiders to understand, but when you succeed 100% one evening, and the audience’s applause and cries of “brava” wash towards you– well, for an artist that is an experience incomparable to any other in the world.” – Excerpt from the Birgit Nilsson concert program 1967, in benefit of Bjäre Härads local history society.