Today, we present our picks of the Scandinavian masters of opera, whose musical work completely subsists of this dramatic musical art form. Five Scandinavian opera greats you probably have heard of if you’re interested in the genre.
Whether dramatically serenading princesses in Puccini or gracefully expressing love or pain in areas, opera singers like no other performers capture our imagination. Here is our take on six of the greatest Scandinavian opera singers of all times.
Lauritz Melcior (1890-1973)
The Copenhagen-born Danish-American Wagnerian tenor was engaged to sing Siegmund and Parsifal for the re-opening of the Bayreuth 1924 Festival. This prestigious contract opened the way to several other appearances such as a Wagner concert with Frida Leider in Berlin in 1923. Around this time several acoustic records were cut for Polydor and the rest is history.
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Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962)
Kirsten Flagstad is known for her performances in Wagner’s operas. The Norwegian soprano was a highly regarded Wagner soprano with leading roles in Aida and Tosca. She ranks among the greatest singers of the 20th century, and many opera critics called hers “the voice of the century”. Desmond Shawe-Taylor wrote of her in the New Grove Dictionary of Opera: “No one within living memory surpassed her in sheer beauty and consistency of line and tone.”
Jussi Björling (1911-60)
Swede Björling was one of the great tenors of the 20th century appearing at the world’s most famous opera houses in London, Milan and New York. His first performance outside Sweden was a recital in Copenhagen Tivoli in Denmark in 1931.
In an interview for the Swedish daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, Luciano Pavarotti stated, “When I’m about to train a new opera, I first listen to how Jussi Björling did it. His voice was unique and it’s his path that I want to follow. I would more than anything else wish that people compared me with Jussi Björling. That’s how I’m striving to sing.»
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Birgit Nilsson (1918-2005)
The Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson is celebrated for her performances of Turandot and works by Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner. Her voice was noted for its overwhelming force, bountiful reserves of power, and the gleaming brilliance and clarity in the upper register. She once said that Isolde made her famous and Turandot made her rich.
The secret to singing Isolde, she said, was “comfortable shoes. After a disagreement with the Australian soprano Joan Sutherland, Nilsson was once asked if she thought Sutherland’s famous bouffant hairdo was real. She answered: “I don’t know. I haven’t pulled it yet.”
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Nicolai Gedda (1925-)
Swedish Nicolai Gedda sang well into the seventies and is said to be the most recorded tenor in history with nearly 200 performances. He made his final operatic recording at the age 77 in June 2003. His singing is best known for its beauty of tone, vocal control, and musical perception.
Anne-Sofie von Otter (1955-)
The Stockholm-born mezzo Anne-Sofie von Otter has 25 years of recordings to her name, Her repertoire encompasses lieder, operas, oratorios and also rock and pop songs and jazz collaborations.
Her recording of Grieg songs won the 1993 Gramophone Record of the Year, the first time in the award’s history that it had gone to a song recording. In 2001, she released her album with Elvis Costello,
Five Scandinavian Opera Greats, compiled by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Swedish opera singer Birgit Nilsson