Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Birgit Nilsson

The soprano Birgit Nilsson has died at the age of 87. This AP obituary gives a good overview of her career. Her best roles included Wagner's Brünnhilde and Isolde, Strauss's Isolde and Elektra, and Puccini's Turandot -- roles that called for a huge voice and lots of stamina. While her voice was large, it was not wobbly as Wagnerian sopranos' voices often tended to be; in fact, she sometimes seemed to err on the other side, singing with relatively little vibrato and lending a "cold" or "steely" tone to her voice. (She was also one of the few great singers who, when she wasn't at her best, was more likely to sing sharp than to sing flat.) At her best, she produced amazing singing that was big and beautiful in a way that no dramatic soprano of her time could match; Conrad L. Osborne wrote that her Elektra was the only great singing of the role he had heard, because Nilsson was the only person who could actually sing everything Strauss wrote and make it sound good.

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