Birgit Nilsson is dead

by Chris Bertram on January 12, 2006

“Birgit Nilsson”: , the Swedish soprano famous, among other things, for her Brünnhilde in Solti’s pathbreaking Decca Ring cycle and her Isolde on Boehm’s Tristan, is dead at the age of 87. Her recordings speak for themselves, but there are also plenty of nice anectotes in the obits. From the “New York Times”: :

bq. After a disagreement with the Australian soprano Joan Sutherland, Ms. Nilsson was asked if she thought Ms. Sutherland’s famous bouffant hairdo was real. She answered: “I don’t know. I haven’t pulled it yet.” After the tenor Franco Corelli was said to have bitten her neck in an onstage quarrel over held notes, Ms. Nilsson canceled performances complaining that she had rabies.

The NYT obit has some MP3s (including one of the Liebestod from Tristan). See also the “Times”:,,60-1980878,00.html and the “Washington Post”: .



Kenny Easwaran 01.12.06 at 2:26 pm

Wow, she must have been really young as Isolde! But she’ll probably always be Brunnhilde to me, because that’s the only recording I have of the full Ring. I guess that might change if I ever get a chance to see a complete cycle done live.


Jose 01.12.06 at 5:28 pm

Man, you know you’re younger (or dumber?) than the bloggers you read when your first reaction to the headline above is: Man, Flavor Flav is going to be so sad.


Kenny Easwaran 01.12.06 at 5:36 pm

Actually, I think I was thinking of Flagstad as Isolde, which is why I thought Nilsson was so young at the time.


Mike 01.12.06 at 6:43 pm

I saw her sing Isolde at the Met in Nov, 1971 with Jess Thomas as Tristan, Thomas Stewart as Kurvenal and John Macurdy as King Mark. It was the greatest performance of my lifetime. I’ll miss her forever.


Zeno 01.12.06 at 10:32 pm

I got to see Nilsson three times in San Francisco: as Isolde opposite Jess Thomas’s Tristan, as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre, and as Die Frau in Strauss’s Die Frau Ohne Schatten. Her voice made my nerve endings vibrate with delight. What a privilege it was to see her in person, if only those three times.


Gene O'Grady 01.13.06 at 12:54 am


As I recall Nilsson did not sing the “Frau” in San Francisco, she sang Barak’s wife. But still a remarkably memorable performance. As was the Isolde with Jess Thomas.

Perhaps a good word for the old San Francisco Opera of Kurt Herbert Adler, which was putting on unusual repertoire like Die Frau Ohne Schatten while New York was still on the thumb of the solipsistic Rudolf Bing.


Ben 01.13.06 at 8:58 am

I thought she went downhill when she married Sylvester Stallone, personally.


sofia dooley 01.13.06 at 10:03 pm

I was told by a resident here in my Retirement home,that Ms.Nilsson once sang here in Schenectady,NY under the auspices of the Civic Music Assoc.Unfortunately I did not live here at the time.

Thank you for all the information.



John Awman 01.14.06 at 12:20 pm

Her performance in Wagner’s Gotterdamerung was breathtaking.

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