Nilsson, Christine (1843–1921)

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Nilsson, Christine (1843–1921)

Swedish soprano. Name variations: Kristina. Born August 20, 1843, in Sjöabol, Sweden; died on November 22, 1921, in Stockholm; studied in Stockholm with Franz Berward; and with Wartel, Massé, and Delle Sedie in Paris; married Auguste Rouzaud, in1872 (died 1882); married Count A. de Casa Miranda, in 1887 (died 1902).

Debuted at the Théâtre-Lyrique in Paris as Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata (1864); debuted in same role in London (1864); created Ophélie in Hamlet for the Paris Opéra (1868); debuted at Covent Garden (1868); made U.S. debut at the Academy of Music in New York (1871); sang for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera (1883) as Marguerite in Faust.

George Bernard Shaw called Christine Nilsson, "the most gifted of our leading soprani. That position she has made good … by the force of her inborn dramatic instinct and the charm of a voice whose beauty asserts herself in spite of a most destructive method of production." Acknowledging that Nilsson could sing beautifully despite bad technique, Shaw also lauded her dramatic genius: "We are carried away in defiance of bad phrasing, breathing in awkward places, willful trifling with the tempo to the destruction of all rhythm, and any other liberty which the impulsive audacity of the singer may suggest. Her acting at the death of Valentine, once witnessed [in Gounod's Faust], cannot easily be forgotten; and in the church scene she attains the highest tragic expression." Clearly Nilsson overcame her vocal flaws with her dramatic abilities, as she was one of the leading sopranos of her day.

Christine Nilsson was born into an impoverished family on August 20, 1843, in Sjöabol, Sweden. As a girl, she sang and performed on the violin at popular gatherings. In 1857, M. Tornérhjelm, a man of wealth, recognized the beauty of her voice while she was performing at a fair in Ljungby and funded her musical studies. In 1860, she was heard in the concert halls in Stockholm and Uppsala, and then went to Paris, where, after four years' study, she made her debut in the role of Violetta at the Théâtre Lyrique on October 27, 1864.

Between that date and 1872, when she married Auguste Rouzaud (who would die in 1882), she was the leading prima donna. Her first appearance in London was in 1867. A year later, on March 9, she made her first appearance in the Paris Opera House as Ophélie in Hamlet. Although she began her career in France, Nilsson appeared in many European capitals. She became especially well known for her Queen of the Night in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). Her voice was pure, flexible, and true in its upper range, though weaker in the lower. As her career progressed, the high notes were lost, but she had a powerful dramatic range with which to compensate.

She visited the United States in 1870, sang in St. Petersburg in 1872, in America in 1873–74 and 1882, in Germany and Austria between 1876 and 1877, as well as in Spain and Scandinavia. After appearing at the new Metropolitan Opera in 1883, Nils son gave 59 performances in six months. She performed only until 1887, retiring after her second marriage to a Spanish count, A. de Casa Miranda.


Franzén, Nils Olof. Christina Nilsson: en svensk saga. Stockholm, 1976.

Headland, T. Christine Nilsson: the Songbird of the North. Rock Island, IL: 1943.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia