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Birgit Nilsson
November 3, 2009 10:53 AM   Subscribe

A big, blunt woman with a wicked sense of humor, Ms. Nilsson brooked no interference from Wagner's powerful and eventful orchestra writing. When she sang Isolde or Brünnhilde, her voice pierced through and climbed above it.

It was not just the sheer size of her voice that overwhelmed recording studio microphones. It was the almost physical presence of her shimmering sound that made it so distinctive.
posted by Joe Beese (11 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
teh original "fat lady" in the wellknown "it ain't over until the fat lady sings"
posted by infini at 11:09 AM on November 3, 2009


I am still as saddened by her death as I was the day I heard of it. Nilsson has probably as much to do with my love of Wagner as the music itself. Her voice was a dragon, and the woman herself was an elemental force.

I think I'm going to go put on my much better encoded version of that performance from Gotterdammerung linked to above, and wish for a singer of her power and endurance to come again very soon.
posted by strixus at 11:10 AM on November 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hojotoho!
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:24 AM on November 3, 2009


It was all downhill after Red Sonja.
posted by euphorb at 12:37 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


A force of nature indeed.
posted by jokeefe at 1:13 PM on November 3, 2009


Ah, to be a soprano and have all my best one-liners recorded for posterity...
posted by nosila at 2:16 PM on November 3, 2009


Not to be confused with Brigitte Nielsen.

Because that's totally what I did.
posted by cestmoi15 at 2:36 PM on November 3, 2009


"teh original "fat lady" in the wellknown "it ain't over until the fat lady sings"
posted by infini at 11:09 AM

You never heard of Helen Traubel?
posted by Cranberry at 2:44 PM on November 3, 2009


Wonderful post. I will be searching out some of her recordings. I also enjoyed the Miss N., model-mauled-by-lion-turned-stalker story.
posted by tellurian at 4:22 PM on November 3, 2009


> "teh original "fat lady" in the wellknown "it ain't over until the fat lady sings"
> posted by infini at 11:09 AM
>
> You never heard of Helen Traubel?
> posted by Cranberry at 5:44 PM on November 3 [+] [!]

Or Frida Leider or Kirsten Flagstad or Lotte Lehman among the Wagnerian sopranos of the first rank; or, say, Rosa Sucher or Gertrud Bindernagel among the less well known. Actually the job of singing loud enough to be heard over a Wagner-sized orchestra long enough to get through a Wagner-length opera just calls for a figure of some heft. I doubt there's ever been sylphlike slip-of-a-thing soprano who could do it. I certainly can't think of any. (Though in fairness to Flagstad she was already very great when she was still young and pretty.)

And as the picture of Gotthelf Pistor in the Tarzan Siegfried outfit with Gertrude Bindernagel reminds us, the same is pretty much true for the guys. Lauritz Melchior, by consensus the greatest Wagnerian heldentenor ever, was in no danger of blowing away in a light breeze. (N.b. in that pic he's dressed as Othello, not anything Wagnerian.) And then there's Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, who was drafted to sing Tristan by Wagner himself.
posted by jfuller at 4:27 PM on November 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


As a boy Beese, my father explained to me that opera plots already required so much suspension of disbelief that ignoring the heft of the singers was a trivial addition to the burden.

In wondering whether Leonie Rysanek might have been an exception to the skinnies-can't-sing-Wagner rule, I did a Google image search. She seems sturdy enough here - which I link to as demonstration of Nilsson's famous quip that what a Wagnerian soprano most needs is a comfortable pair of shoes.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:01 AM on November 4, 2009


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