Debut at the Metropolitan, 1959

1959 was a landmark in Birgit Nilsson’s career. On the 18th of December she made her debut as Isolde at the world-famous opera in New York.

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Isolde 1959. Metropolitan Opera Archives.

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Isolde 1959. Metropolitan Opera Archives.

At the age of 41, Birgit had been a success at most of the major opera houses of the world. Her debut at the Metropolitan had taken its time, but also meant that Birgit had developed and matured in her art. On the evening of December 18th, she took the audience as well as the opera director and critics by storm. Expectations were enormous before opening night, and success was total. Even in the pause following the first act, the audience broke out in a deafening jubilation. The house was in complete uproar. The audience stood up and applauded like crazy. After opening night, the Swedish star Birgit Nilsson was given great notice by the American press. They wrote ”A star is born overnight”. No one seemed to realize that Birgit was already a ”star” for quite a number of years in Europe. Her success echoed in the world press, and papers wrote about the Swedish opera star. Birgit herself considered her debut at the Metropolitan to be the greatest triumph of her life. The day following her debut, she wrote a letter home to her father in Svenstad. ”New York, December 19, 1959. Hi. How are you? Yesterday I experienced the greatest triumph ever in my life. I made my debut at the Metropolitan and it was a success unparalleled by anyone in the last 20 years. The audience stood up and stomped their feet and went completely wild. I received two carloads of flowers, and today my portrait is on the first page of all the newspapers. I am terribly happy that it was such a success. I hadn’t dared to hope for this .... You seem to have had a harsh winter, I’ve heard. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Do write some time. Greetings, Birgit and Bertil.”