Magazine article Gramophone

Birgit Nilsson

Magazine article Gramophone

Birgit Nilsson

Article excerpt

Mike Ashman takes stock of the great Swedish soprano's complete recordings for major labels, including the roles that define her legacy

'La Nilsson' (H)

Complete Decca, Philips and DG Recordings

Birgit Nilsson sop

Decca (S) (79 CDs + (2) [DVD]) 483 2787

Recorded 1958-82

This anniversary set places under one attractive, inevitably large yet manageably portable roof all of Birgit Nilsson's major-label recordings (the Fanciulla del West, Turandot and Aida have been borrowed from Warner Classics to join the three companies principally credited). There are also DVDs of the BBC's 1965 The Golden Ring and Brian Large's film of her Metropolitan Opera Elektra in 1980.

Although Nilsson's reservations about the voice/instrument balances on some of her leading Decca opera sets are now well known, we should remember that the Solti Ring and the two Strauss one-acters are quintessential gramophone products of their time, the first golden age of the stereo LP, made by an opera-devoted team of producer/engineers keen to show off their new medium--admittedly being more interventionist than they were later to become--as the message for hearing complete works at home.

This great run of German dramatic opera for the 1960s Decca team will, I suspect, remain Nilsson's ticket to immortality on disc, whatever the counterattractions of the live performances coming later in the year from Sony Classical. With this box you can once again set the soprano's Brunnhilde live on Wagner's own stage with an arguably more giving conductor (Bohm) and orchestra alongside the explosive and well-drilled achievements under Solti before the microphones of Vienna's Sofiensaal. Both, I think, are essential in terms of exploring, in tandem, the work and the voice of its leading lady. There's no one way, luckily, and you shouldn't deny yourself--to take just one plum--the push and pull of Nilsson's argument in Walkure Act 3 with the veteran Hans Hotter's Wotan just because it is not part of one complete performance.

The 1960s Decca Strauss pair of Salome and Elektra remain as hot as the day they were first released. The former may be too extreme in terms of intervention from the production desk--especially if you recall that Maria Cebotari (for Clemens Krauss live, various sources) seemed to be able to do a teenager-of-death voice without the colouring of the acoustic around her--but/ it is a remarkably spooky evocation of the work's atmosphere. And Elektra surely remains Nilsson's most compelling single recording, a tour de force of strength on the verge of a nervous breakdown, brilliantly accompanied and supported. …

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