Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Sad news that soprano Birgit Nilsson has died at 87.
She was buried earlier today near her home in Sweden.
Without question, hers was the loudest and most impressive voice I ever heard close up.

Nilsson had left the US in the 1970s after a dispute with the IRS.
She returned in 1979.
I was a grad student then, living across from Lincoln Center, in the West Side Y!
I was on my way to a statistics study group on a Sunday morning when I saw the line snaking down Columbus Avenue. They were waiting for standing room tickets for Nilsson's "comeback" concert at the Met that evening, with Levine conducting. I got on line only because some of my buddies were there. The study went to hell. I got the very last standing room place. When the box office guy handed me my ticket, ($2!) he slammed the window down and left about 100 pissed off people behind me.

That night, from the third rail of standing room, I heard Nilsson.
The applause at her entrance was incredible. She was crying.
Levine was crying. The orchestra was crying. I was crying.
The first piece, "Dich teure Halle" did not go well, the A wobbled and she backed off. But it was wonderful when she opened her arms at the lines 'du, teure Halle!" (You, beloved hall!)She pulled herself together-and she was in her early sixties then-and went on. The inhalation Scene. Saloon finale. Brunnhilde's Battle Cry. All was well. It was a mighty wave of sound; a tsunami, hitting you right between the eyes. I actually felt my bones shaking. The applause lasted longer than the program. The lady was back.

I saw her again, as Elektra and the Farberin in 'Die Frau ohne Schatten'.
There wasn't much tone left by then, but there were volume and musicianship.
All the power was there, and there was plenty to enjoy.
Her recordings and broadcasts give a hint what hearing that voice 'live' was like,
that huge silver knife of a voice, that she could whittle down to a piano in the Liebesnacht, or as Lady Macbeth.

Even at the end, she was somethin'
I'll never forget her.
God rest her soul.

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