Sad news that soprano Birgit Nilsson has passed away at her home in Sweden.
She was 87. Funeral was this morning.
Without question hers was the loudest and most impressive voice I ever
heard close up.
Nilsson left the US in the mid 1970s after a tax dispute with the IRS. She
returned in 1979.
I was a grad student at NYU then, living across form Lincoln Center (in the Y!)
I was on my way to study for a statistics final on a Sunday morning when
I saw the line snaking down the plaza and 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
buddies of mine 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 down the window and left about 100 really agitated people behind me.
That night, from the third rail in downstairs standing room, I heard Nilsson.
The applause at her entrance was incredible. She was crying.
Levine was crying. The orchestra-apparently they adored her-was crying.
The first piece, "Dich teure Halle" (Tannhauser) did not go well. The high
A wobbled badly.
You could see her pull herself together-Nilsson was in her early sixties-
but from then on it was a mighty wave of sound; a tsunami, hitting you
right between the eyes.
I actually felt my bones shaking. She went on to sing the Immolation Scene
and the finale of Salome, and all was well.
The applause lasted longer than the program. The lady was back.
I saw her again as Elektra, and as the Dyer's Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten.
There wasn't much tone left by then, but there was volume and musicianship.
All the power was there, and there was plenty to enjoy.
Her recordings and broadcasts give a hint of what hearing her in the flesh
that huge silver knife of a voice-that she could whittle down to a piano in
or as Lady Macbeth.
Hopefully there will be plenty of posts about her-from all of you who heard
her in her great years.
But even at the end, she was somethin'.
I'll never forget her.
God rest her soul.
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