Debut in Bayreuth, 1953

Birgit Nilsson’s first performance in Bayreuth Germany was with a concert in 1953. She sang the soprano solo of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. The following year she gave her first opera performance there.


Elsa in Lohengrin, 1954. Bayreuther Festspiele GmbH.


Elsa in Lohengrin, 1954. Bayreuther Festspiele GmbH. Photo: Siegfried Lauterwasser.

The opera festival had been reinstated after World War II in 1951 in the German town of Bayreuth. This was done under the leadership of brothers Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner, grandsons to master Richard Wagner. In 1954 Birgit performed her first opera role in Bayreuth as Elsa in Lohengrin, under the direction of Wolfgang Wagner. This became the first of sixteen summers Birgit was to spend in Bayreuth. ”When I walked along the steep and long hill which leads to the Festspielhaus, it was not only the strain which made my heart pound. I was almost consumed with nervousness and excitement. How would I manage to sing in this Wagner temple? I almost convinced myself, that those who sang there were not ordinary humans, but rather some kind of Gods and Goddesses. My expectations were heightened to the extent that it could not be other than almost a disappointment when I experienced the first performances there. The artists were humans with faults and deficiencies, just like me and everyone else. My nerves calmed down after a while, but my respect and reverence remained for all the sixteen summers I sang there.” - Birgit Nilsson, My Memoirs in Pictures.