Björling, Jussi (actually, Johan Jonatan)

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Björling, Jussi (actually, Johan Jonatan)

Björling, Jussi (actually, Johan Jonatan), eminent Swedish tenor; b. Stora Tuna, Feb. 5, 1911; d. Siarö, near Stockholm, Sept. 9, 1960. He studied voice with his father, a professional singer, making his first public appearance in 1916 as a member of the Björling Male Quartet, which included his father, David Björling (1873–1926), and 2 other brothers, Johan Olof “Olle” (1909–65) and Karl Gustai “Gösta” (1912–57), both of whom pursued careers as singers; another brother, Karl David “Kalle” (1917–75), was also a singer. The Bjôrling Male Quartet gave concerts throughout Sweden (1916–19); made an extensive tour of the U.S. (1919–21); then continued to sing in Sweden until 1926. Jussi Björling had an excellent professional training with John Forsell at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. He made his operatic debut as the Lamplighter in Manon Lescaut at the Royal Theater in Stockholm on July 21, 1930, and remained there until 1939; also sang as a guest artist with the Vienna State Opera and the Dresden State Opera, and at the Salzburg Festival. He made his professional U.S. debut in a concert broadcast from Carnegie Hall in N.Y. on Nov. 28, 1937, and his first appearance with the Metropolitan Opera as Rodolfo in La Bohème on Nov. 24, 1938; he continued to sing there until 1941, when his career was interrupted by World War II. He resumed his appearances at the Metropolitan Opera in 1945 and sang there until 1954, and then again in 1956-57 and 1959. On March 15, 1960, he suffered a heart attack as he was preparing to sing the role of Rodolfo at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, but in spite of his great discomfort, went through with the performance. He appeared for the last time at a concert in Stockholm on Aug. 20, 1960. Björling was highly regarded for his fine vocal technique and his sense of style. He excelled in Italian and French roles, and also essayed some Russian operas. He wrote an autobiography, Med bagaget i strupen (Stockholm, 1945). The Jussi Björling Memorial Archive was founded in 1968.


J. Porter and H. Henrysson, A J. B. Discography (comprehensive, with biographical profile; Indianapolis, 1982; 2nd ed., rev., 1993); A.-L. Björling and A. Farkas, J. (Portland, Ore., 1996).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire