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Birgit Nilsson: The Great Live Recordings

Birgit Nilsson: The Great Live Recordings

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Birgit Nilsson was a vocal phenomenon in “a league of her own“ (New York Times). Not even the loudest orchestra could drown her powerful voice.

Unfortunately, there were seldom recording engineers around who had the expertise to do her voice justice, so it was mostly reduced to a “normal” size in the studio. As the celebrated German music critic Jürgen Kesting put it: “Birgit Nilsson in the recording studio is like driving a Porsche in the back yard”.

Fortunately, there are many live recordings which show the “real thing” – a phenomenal, larger-than-life voice. “There’s nobody like her, no other singer I heard in my life”, said Plácido Domingo who partnered her in several performances of Turandot.

This centenary edition showcases Nilsson in roles where she set a new vocal standard – Turandot, Isolde, Brünnhilde, Salome and Elektra – in exciting performances, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm, Leonard Bernstein, Leopold Stokowski, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Eugen Jochum, and alongside other great singers like Anna Moffo, Régine Crespin, Leonie Rysanek, Astrid Varnay, Regina Resnik, Franco Corelli, Wolfgang Windgassen, Ramón Vinay, Jon Vickers, Jess Thomas, Theo Adam and Martti Talvela.

Taken in chronological order, these live recordings show the development of the voice of the century: from concert recordings in Stockholm (where her career started in the late 1940s) to great performances at the Met, the Bayreuth Festival and the Vienna State Opera, including the Met’s broadcast of Die Walküre conducted by Karajan, two versions of Tristan und Isolde (Bayreuth 1957 and Vienna 1967), two performances of Elektra(Montreal 1967/Expo and Met 1971) and the exciting Turandot with Franco Corelli and Anna Moffo, conducted by Leopold Stokowski.

Despite her legendary “battles” with star tenor Franco Corelli (“Anything you can do, I can do louder!”), Birgit Nilsson was one of a very few singers to be respected by all her colleagues, by conductors and directors and managers. After listening to her live recordings, you’ll know exactly why.


All 17 performances (12 of them complete) collected here have appeared before in some form, or condition, as ‘private’ or ‘pirate’ issue recordings. The sonic improvements now made by Sony to these original releases are often considerable and their selection is both logical and satisfying.

– Gramophone

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