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Birgit Nilsson

Updated on December 1, 2016

Birgit Nilsson (1918-2005), Swedish soprano, who is regarded as one of the greatest modern interpreters of such roles in the operas of Richard Wagner as Isolde in Tristan und Isolde and Briinnhilde in Die Walkiire and in Die Gotterdammerung. Her remarkable voice, rich, clear, and powerful, was always firm and controlled, soaring easily over the often formidable sound of the Wagnerian orchestra, and delicately modulated in the pianissimo passages. Miss Nils-son also excelled in non-Wagnerian opera, especially performances in the title roles of Puccini's Turandot, Verdi's Aida, and Richard Strauss' Salome, as well as the part of Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni.

Birgit Nilsson was born in Karup, Sweden, on May 17, 1918. She grew up on her parents' farm and attended the local school, where she was taught to sight-read music. Her vocal gifts developed early, and she sang in the church choir and at school concerts. After studying at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, she sang with the Royal Opera there. Her fame spread, and she soon had important engagements throughout Europe, singing at such distinguished institutions as the Glyndebourne Festival in England, the Vienna State Opera, La Scala, and the Bayreuth Festival. She made her American debut with the San Francisco Opera in 1956 and her New York City debut with the Metropolitan in 1959.

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