Nilsson, Birgit 1918–2005

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Nilsson, Birgit 1918–2005

(Birgit Marta Nilsson)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born May 17, 1918, in Vastra Karup, Sweden; died December 25, 2005, in Vastra Karup, Sweden. Singer and author. Nilsson was a world-renowned operatic singer who was especially famous for her roles in Wagnerian operas. Seemingly born to be a vocalist, as a baby Nilsson supposedly began singing before she could walk and learned to play the piano when she was three. Growing up on a farm, she once said she would have been happy to remain in the Swedish countryside, but felt music was her calling. She thus attended the Stockholm Royal Academy of Music and in 1946 joined the Stockholm Opera as a soprano. Touring throughout Europe, by the 1950s she was gaining lead roles in such operas as Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, Tannhäuser, and Die Walküre, for which she famously starred as Brünnhilde. She also performed in the operas of other composers, including Puccini's Turandot and Strauss's Electra. Considered the heir to another famous soprano, Kirsten Flagstad, Nilsson first performed in North America in 1956 and continued to sing professionally until 1984. She was highly admired for her breath control, which allowed her to maintain notes for long periods, and her powerful voice. Despite her official retirement in 1984, Nilsson made occasional appearances afterward, most recently in 1996 for a celebration of music director James Levine. She was the author of Mina minnesbilder (1977), which was translated in 1981 as My Memoirs in Pictures, and La Nilsson (1995).



Nilsson, Birgit, My Memoirs in Pictures, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1981.


Chicago Tribune, January 12, 2006, section 1, p. 9.

Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2006, p. B10.

New York Times, January 12, 2006, pp. A1, C18.

Times (London, England), January 11, 2006, p. 67.

Washington Post, January 12, 2006, p. B7.