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Ghost Canyon

Title - 'La Nilsson' [79 CD + 2 DVD Box-Set]
Artist - Birgit Nilsson

For those not in the classical know, Birgit Nilsson was born in Västra Karup in southern Sweden to a farming family on May 17th, 1918.

She sang a wide variety of dramatic soprano roles, but her reputation was based on her mastery of some of the most punishing in the repertory.

Whether excelling as the fire-and-ice heroine of Puccini's Turandot, or in the roles of Isolde, Brünnhilde or Sieglinde; which confirmed her as a successor to Kirsten Flagstad, Nilsson stood head and shoulders above all others of her genre.

However, there was nothing heroic about her early life, while her operatic debut in 1946 was a near-disaster! She was born and grew up on a farm in Vastra Karups, southern Sweden, an often lonely only child who expressed herself most happily by singing - apparently with perfect pitch - and by playing the one-octave toy piano given to her as a toddler.

Her musical talents were recognized by family and friends, but not by her first teacher at the Stockholm academy, Joseph Hislop, who told her it was not for farmers' daughters to become singers.

Subsequently Leo Blech, who conducted her debut performance - as Agathe in Der Freischütz, at the Stockholm Royal Opera after only three days' preparation - declared that she was not musical!

She was more fortunate with Fritz Busch, who rescued her from a year's exclusion from the stage to sing Lady Macbeth. Her success here was so sensational that Blech was obliged to eat his words and even to arrange for Nilsson's appearance in Berlin (her first engagement abroad), where she sang Sieglinde in a concert performance of the first act of Die Walküre.

Wisely, she then returned to Stockholm to build up her repertoire and develop her voice.

It was in the mid-1950s that she began her world conquest, with Elsa at Bayreuth in 1954 and the complete Brünnhilde at the 1955 Munich Festival, where she also displayed her ability to ride over the vast orchestral forces of Strauss's Salome without losing beauty of tone.

Not only did she prove to have a voice of unique power; she was also an apparently tireless singer who always sounded as fresh at the end of the most challenging roles as she had been at the beginning.

Indeed, Nilsson's Elektra – the role considered by some critics as her finest achievement – had not only the sheer vocal power required to surmount the huge Straussian orchestra without difficulty, but the emotional strength needed to give truly heroic proportions to the work.

Ergo, Nilsson remains peerless in the repertoire best suited to her qualities. No dramatic soprano has since truly approached her stature. Her extraordinary vocal power and breath control enabled her to hold on to flawless high notes for almost unnatural lengths of time. Her stamina was inexhaustible and impregnable, so that she appeared perfectly fresh at the end of the most grueling performance.

She had a rock-solid technique and a voice of such soaring, unforced power that it was able to cut through the massed forces of a Wagnerian orchestra with ease, yet retained a purity of tone which enabled her to switch to the most delicate pianissimo.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about her was that she rarely, if ever, gave a performance which fell below the standards she set herself, and at the age of 65 she could still dominate the 1983 Metropolitan Opera Gala featuring the cream of the world's singers.

She retired in 1984, her Wagner supremacy recognized by all her colleagues, who regarded her with affection and respect, while audiences simply worshiped her as though she had come down to them from Valhalla. [Marta Birgit Nilsson, soprano, born May 17 1918; died January 1 2006].

Released this past May 4th, 2018 via Decca Classics, La Nilsson is a stupendous, and completely deserved Limited Edition 79CD + 2DVD Box-Set covering all the major roles Nilsson performed: 27 full-length operas including 2 full Wagner ‘Ring’ cycles.

This stunning Box-Set, released to mark the centenary of her birth, is presented with original jackets, spine wallets and a 200-page perfect bound book, and offers not only Nilsson’s complete recordings for Decca, Philips and Deutsche Grammophon, but also every major role she recorded. Of which the highlights included boast:

• 27 COMPLETE OPERAS, including:
• TRISTAN UND ISOLDE with Solti – REMASTERED including the rehearsals PLUS the Bayreuth/Bohm recording from Deutsche Grammophon
• Verdi MACBETH and Beethoven FIDELIO
• Two TURANDOT recordings – with Leinsdorf and Molinari-Pradelli
• Decca Operatic Recitals (Verdi, Beethoven, Weber and Wagner) and “Swedish Songs in Land of the Midnight Sun”
• DVDs of the MET production of ELEKTRA, and the GOLDEN RING documentary of the making of the Solti Ring.

Oh, and if you want more, well, you got it, for this magnificent Box-Set also includes:

• New essay – “Apotheosis Achieved” by Raymond McGill
• A note by Decca producer Christopher Raeburn
• Many unseen photographs from the Decca archive
• Recording Index
• Composer/Work Index

That makes this a unique proposition that will delight the admirers of one of the 20th century’s greatest singers.

It's always been made clear to me, a fan of Ms. Nilsson for about the past 25 years now, that she was a focused, hard-working singer with a natural, mostly untaught technique ... and a fierce sense of humor.

Her voice reverberated against the walls of the world’s greatest opera houses for nearly 40 years, leaving her with ecstatic ovations and effusive reviews.

No matter how stunningly magnificent her recordings were, it was said that they could never do justice to the experience of hearing her live in the repertoire that she sang best: primarily Wagner and Strauss, but also some Verdi and Puccini.

So, in honor of her legacy lovingly stacked up here in some fine boxing style by Decca Classics, I will review a few of my personal favorite moments of her glorious and illustrious career.

Nilsson’s remarkable Wagnerian stamina was also required in her signature Strauss roles. At the same 1955 Munich Festival where her Brünnhilde took the audience by storm, she wowed them yet again as the darkly sensual and murderous Princess Salome.

This is known as one of the most challenging roles in all of opera, with its vast vocal range, its 105-piece orchestra, and its many musical and dramatic challenges.

Nilsson took these challenges in stride, and at the end of a show, she would sometimes walk offstage to her dressing room singing Mozart’s stratospheric “Queen of the Night” aria or Brünnhilde’s battle cry.

Opera rarely makes front-page news, but December 19th, 1959 was one such occasion. The New York Times headline read, “Birgit Nilsson as Isolde Flashes Like New Star in ‘Met’ Heavens.”

Nilsson once said that Isolde made her famous, and this moment was indeed her launch to international stardom. She played this Irish princess more than 30 times at the Met alone, and when asked what the secret was to tirelessly performing such a vocally and physically demanding role over and over again, Nilsson’s response was characteristically straightforward: “comfortable shoes.”

Isolde may have made Birgit Nilsson famous, but Turandot made her rich! She sang the role more than 50 times at the Met alone, and though it isn’t a very long role, it is a vocally taxing one.

Nilsson made it her own, finding the character’s warmth and vulnerability rather than fixating only on her ice and steel. Vocally, though, she certainly showed her mettle. At the outdoor Arena de Verona in Italy, she sang a high C that caused people outside of the arena to believe a fire alarm had been set off.

And lastly, although I could go on all day like this, much like Salome, Elektra is a one-act opera that packs a huge punch, particularly for the starring soprano. This is one of the two roles that defined the later years of Birgit Nilsson’s career, and she is still considered one of the best interpreters ever to portray Elektra.

Part Greek tragedy and part Freudian exploration, the orchestra is often cited as the largest of any repertory opera. The title character steps onstage shortly after the opera begins and doesn’t leave the stage until her final frenzy brings the tragic story to its close.

Nilsson premiered a new production of Elektra during the Met’s first season at Lincoln Center in 1966, co-starring Leonie Rysanek (whose misgivings apparently applied only to singing the very same role as Nilsson).

As aforementioned, Birgit Nilsson’s complete Decca, Philips and Deutsche Grammophon recordings marks her 100th birthday and has been produced with the full support of the Birgit Nilsson Foundation.

Official 'La Nilsson' [79 CD + 2 DVD Box-Set] Purchase Link