Monday, August 16, 2010

Birgit Nilsson - The Best Liebestod/Isolde Ever!

I never thought I should be writing this but it is true for almost half of my life I have been wrong about this magnificent soprano Birgit Nilsson. Perhaps half wrong!

I was introduced to Nilsson by my husband in about 1966 who had bought the Solti recording of Wagner's 'Tristan & Isolda' on LP. I still have the records. Unfortunately they were not recorded in Nilsson's heyday and she was not at her best. In fact when I listened to them recently they were 'unlistenable to' if you pardon my syntax.

Nilsson was also very heavily built to put it mildly. She looked like the back of a bus and one had to stretch the imagination to see her as a young innocent girl in love for the first time. Nilsson had become a Prima Donna with an over inflated opinion on artistic production. Miles took me to the first night of the infamous 'Tristan' produced and directed by Peter Hall at The Royal Opera House Covent Garden where Hall had mounted a brilliant modern staging which would have been run of the mill for Shakespeare at the National Theatre but threw the conservative opera world into a feeding frenzy of hate.

Ms Nilsson refused to appear after the first night unless changes were made. Either she went or Peter Hall went. Guess who went? It was not Ms Nilsson! We had tickets for subsequent performances as well. My husband was not going to miss a single 'Tristan. Ms Nilsson's dramatic changes including costume and mis en scene ruined what had been a memorable production beside the fact her voice was past it. Now my memory of it is of disappointment and annoyance that she should have been allowed to interfere.

Singers are just that singers not opera/stage directors and should keep out of something they know nothing about. Nilsson should have stuck to singing in tune, her voice had a wobble one could have driven a London bus through at this stage. Nilsson a favourite of Solti's ruined Wagner performance after Wagner performance for me until Solti and she gave up to the relief of all the audience.

So it comes as somewhat of a surprise to find the immaculate performance of the 'Libestod' by a younger, beautiful Birgit Nilsson on YouTube. When you see and hear Nilsson at the peak of her career you can see now why she was so special. Why didn't she stop then? But egos, and Nilsson had one of those, and perhaps money made her struggle on. One only has to read the comments on her later performances on YouTube to realise I was not alone in my opinion. If only I had seen this!

Makes we want to dust off my old copy of Wesendonk Leider! Now where is it!

So here is Birgit Nilsson at her best.

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