Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Birgit Nilsson - Swedish Radio Concerts
Listen to Samples
The Glass-Shattering Voice- Birgit Nilsson
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This album is a tribute to the great Birgit Nilsson, featuring a collection of arias from her greatest accomplishments on the operatic and concert stage. These were originally a series of arias broadcast in her native Sweden, in a radio show. Birgit Nilsson left Sweden and mastered the operatic languages of Italian and German, but some would have it that Sweden never left her. But if we really think about it, ethnic opera singers never forget their roots and sing with the passion of the folk music of ther native land (Placido Domingo sings with fiery and romantic Spanish soul, Mario Del Monaco, Franco Corelli and Luciano Pavoratti were the most Italian of tenors, Leontyne Price and Jessie Norman never forget their roots in Gospel, etc). So why would critics bash the great Birgit Nilsson for being "too Swedish " ? In various instances, her Nordic spirit empowerd her in roles like Puccini's Turandot, Tosca, Minnie in La Fanciulla Del West, Verdi's Lady Macbeth and in Die Frau Au Schautten, not to mention in roles that are regarded as her greatest achievements- Brunhilde in Wagner's "Ring" cycle, Isolde in Tristan And Isolde, and Salome and Elektra of Richard Strauss' operas.
The arias here include - "Vissi D'Arte" from Tosca, "Ritorna Vincitor" from Aida, "In Questa Reggia" from Turandot and her concert arias include "Ocean Thy Mighty Monster" sung in German. There is also a Swedish folk song. Possessed with a remarkably high voice (she can reach all the way up there to the stratosphere), she also managed to soften her voice into sweet lyrical little breaths, making her appear vulnerable and noble. When she belted out the intense passages, she came off as heroic. There is a distinctive quality to her voice, something powerful, cold and yet warm, at times she could be the stereotypical opera diva (the cover painting of her deserves to be illustrated in the dictionary under dramatic soprano!!!) but at times the consummate artist.
These arias should get you familiarized with her voice and mannerisms, which could prompt you to seek out her recordings, of which there are many. The only one I don't recommend is the Don Giovanni she sang in conductor's Erich Leinsdorf recording- opposite Cesare Siepi and Leontyne Price. The one "voice" she could never master was Mozart. As Dona Ana, she forces her voice into a sickeningly sweet style that is inappropriate for the steely victim that is Dona Ana. Furthermore, she just doesn't have the voice for Mozart heroines. It's weird. There's not enough purity of line or even dramatic integrity. Also avoid the Verdi Aida she recorded under Zubin Mehta opposite Franco Corelli. She doesn't have the right kind of dynamics for Aida, and thus comes out as too foreign even for an Egyptian princess, which in operatic terms is more of an Italian voice. Unfortunately, Nilsson never had Italian fire in the voice. For recordings of full-length operas get the following:
Puccini: Turandot..Pradelli conducting singing opposite Franco Corelli and Renata Scotto in the late 60's recording. The "icy cold" detached manner she sings and employs in her acting as the ice princess that is Turandot is phenomenal. No other soprano could sing Turandot like Birgit Nisson. She takes the crown. Her voice is high, defiant and proud. And when she finally falls in love with Calaf, we see the transformation from goddess to frail woman in love.
Verdi: Macbeth. This recording of Macbeth finds Nilsson as a splendidly wicked Lady Macbeth. She is using all the tricks in her sleeve to effectively portray the unfeeling and cruel Lady Macbeth. Suprisingly, this one, and her Tosca, finds her acting and using as much Italian fire as she could muster. These moments were rare but when she had them, she had the audiences at her feet.
Puccini: Tosca...Maazel/Corelli/Nilsson/Dieskau...This Tosca is the one with most character integrity. Corelli and Dieskau as Cavaradossi and Scarpia nail the role to the letter. And our diva Madame Nilsson is the essence of Tosca- passionate, intense, dramatic and beautifully sung. She is acting like she has never acted before too. When she stabs Scarpia in that famous scene, she reaches Maria Callas level of performance and in that final scene when she cries "Scarpia, we shall meet before God" we are certain her voice reaches God himself.
Puccini: La Fanciulla Del West: Having heard the recording several times and comparing it to others, no other soprano could master the hardest Puccini role- Minnie, the tough as nails but sweet and homely saloon owner in the Old West. She's a combination of Mae West and Annie Oakley. Initially afraid of the role (which is so taxing and hard) she learned the role and sang it with such prowess that even the other singers were drowned in her fire.
Wagner: Tristan and Isolde and Gotterdammerung. As Isolde, she is the very woman Wagner envisioned. Her voice is both powerful and vulnerable. She reaches delirious heights of spirituality in the Liebestod and she is so centered, its' a religious experience just hearing her. Nowhere is Nilsson more in touch with mysticism of the North than as Isolde. In Gotterdammerung, she is the definition of Brunhilde- a fallen goddess, a woman whose last vestige of joy and fulfillment has been taken from her - upon the death of her soulmate Siegfried. Her voice is high and mighty, and in that final Immolation Scene, we are blown away.