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Unbelievable Bjorling: just 18 years old

January 6, 2018 by norman lebrecht

28 comments.



Comments (28)

  1. steven holloway says:

    Pavarotti said, semi-modestly, that his own voice came along at a rate of one in a hundred, a voice like Bjorling’s one in a thousand. I’ve always had a similar view of Bjorling, and it astonishes me that he sounded as he did at the age of 18. It suggests his voice and musicality were more innate than the result of training. Thanks to the YouTube uploader for this.

  2. herrera says:

    The 18 year old’s Italian diction is terrible, he might as well have sung in Swedish. ; ) Just kidding.

    Seriously, his father was an accomplished vocalist and his first teacher since an early age, and he debuted publicly at 5, so he got good technique very early on his life, and by 18, he’s had as much training and coaching as a 30 year old singer who started at 15.

    Like Rafael Nadal trained by his uncle, early training by a family member who knows and cares
    for you makes a big difference.

    1. Amos says:

      Wasn’t Bing’s quip that his best Italian tenor at the Met was a Swede?

    2. Bo Bergkvist says:

      Go on kidding! He is in fact singing in Swedish!

  3. Fred says:

    no with all due respect he wasn’t, Bjorling was a wonderful tenor but also a “creation” of wasp America, the voice was small but carried well, Bing’s best Italian tenor (period 1951-1959) was Mario Del Monaco followed by Tucker. Bjorling only had a third of their volume, yet it was a magical timbre, also kissed by the microphone. From about 1959 it was Bergonzi and Corelli

    1. Tristan says:

      Fred, volume doesn’t make a great tenor and the shouting of del Monaco was sometimes irritating.
      The most beautiful voice had di Stefano and the duo with Callas was unique and we never ever heard like that!
      PLUS the Met is not the benchmark! La Scala offered Italian opera in the 50ies unheard anywhere else!
      Nowadays the MET has become a poor cruiser and no wonder what so many cancel! The size is just horrible!

      1. Fred says:

        Del Monaco didn’t shout the one who shouted was your Di Stefano (have all his early recordings so i like him there a lot) according to your major opera critic the late Rodolfo Celetti…By the way the only opera Di Stefano sang with Callas at la scala was Traviata….Del Monaco did at least Aida, Norma and Chenier with her. From 1938 till say 1949 Tagliavini even superseded Di Stefano.
        But the whole thing initiated with Bing’s star tenor and let’s not go astray

        1. Md says:

          Di Stefano and Callas sang Traviata, Lucia and Ballo at La Scala

  4. richard carlisle says:

    Check youtube for superb duets with Victoria de los Angeles.

  5. Terry Van Vliet says:

    Could it have been Nicolai Gedda the tenor Bing had in mind?

    1. Thomas Silverbörg says:

      No, he was for the French and Mozart wing under Bing.

  6. Nancy Wilken says:

    Surprised no comment on the “small” tenor voice of Tito Schipa (beautiful English no accent from Lecce, Italy,
    probably as he was classed as the greatest tenore di grazia?) The Met chose Gigli as Caruso’s successor (have
    entire recordings when he left the Italian army WW1–a lyric tenor, not the dramatic tenor voice of Caruso but had
    larger volume.) Tito Gobbi (baritone) studied Schipa’s voice as he, himself, possessed a “small voice” & wanted
    to learn how to project his own voice to the back. Pavarotti went for the high notes always …to back row of
    Met’s Family Circle, quite a feat in that over sized venue! 1 in a hundred? A current Met tenor is studying Schipa’s
    voice (from Poland?) Glad Schipa’ has not been forgotten! Maybe Gigli too as at a Met function an educated
    patron said, “oh, I remember him (Gigli) the little fat guy who stood & delivered.” Please remember Gigli as Caruso
    is always remembered.

  7. Fred says:

    ten greatest post-war tenor VOICES :
    Del Monaco, Bjorling, Di Stefano, Corelli, Lanza, Bergonzi, Tucker, Wunderlich, Domingo and Pavarotti

    1. richard carlisle says:

      Lanza’s resonance and Pavarotti’s high range made them the most recognizable, at least for me.

      1. richard carlisle says:

        Ease of recognition does not imply quality judgment.

    2. Pianofortissimo says:

      Mario Lanza? You can’t be serious.

      1. Seth Lubin says:

        I can never include Domingo in any such list. His limited top in live performance excludes him. On occasion he could manage good B flats, but higher was precarious.

  8. Tully Potter says:

    My own favourite ‘Nordic Italian’ tenor is Stefan Islandi. I like Björling when he sings as on these early recordings, but he so often sings sharp later on, and he seems to have been very lazy. If I want to hear a tenor singing sharp I prefer one who really has something to say, like Pertile. Björling, to my ears, also had a sort of ‘dead’ area in his voice caused by pushing his chest register too high, perhaps. Yes, it was often a lovely voice, and I like it when he sings as he did on the session when he recorded ‘Ideale’ and that Tosti song in which he imitated Caruso. But only those two tracks were done that day. He had very few roles in his repertoire when you compare him with Caruso and Pertile (both around 60) and he so often cancelled… Greatness surely demands more variety and not just reproducing the same old templates day after day.

    1. fred says:

      hmm you better get your facts right mr Potter, Caruso died before he was 50, Islandi was a fine tenor but his timbre never equalled the silvery beauty of Bjoerling’s, to my ears anyway

  9. Tully Potter says:

    Fred, you’re misunderstanding me. I said Caruso commanded around 60 roles. Of course I know every detail of his life – he was the artist who really brought me to music, aged 11, although I’d been going to the opera since I was seven. As to Islandi, I said he was my favourite. Other favourites of mine, who don’t get a lot of mentions, are Fernandi, Monti, Peerce (all of whom I heard in my youth) and Kraus. I don’t often make claims about tenors being ‘great’ because ‘great’ to a lot of vocal fans seems to mean having a voice that they happen to like…

  10. Adrian Clark says:

    Having heard Kraus sing “Ah mes amis” so well 18 months before his early death (in his early 70s) I do agree with Mr Potter with his choice, Adrian.

  11. Alan says:

    Not a reply but just a question? I love this site but have little if any insight into the art. I have enjoyed the Björling voice for many years, however. Björling at 18 years? Can those who know such things tell me how long it takes to fully evolve the mature tenor and how long that voice before it goes beyond its prime? I understand that many issues including “overuse” but please enlighten me as a total pleb!

    1. Fred says:

      don’t be lazy and compare his recordings in a chronological order and you get the answer.
      In general after the age 40 – 45 it goes downhill….

      1. Alan says:

        Thank you Fred for your part reply- an age of 40 to 45 before decline? Then this is about 10 years older than a ballet dancer. However for me not a question of laziness, just limitation by lack of experience, increasing deafness at age 67, facility of reproduction (only having access to mp3 recordings after selling my vinyl) and obviously things changed by re-mastering. I can usually identify Pavarotti and Domingo but this does not relate my original question relating to Björling at 18 years, (maybe not appropriately phrased). It is about tenors (in general and possibly, on reflection, other voices from bass to soprano). Is there an identifiable maturity of voice with age? Or is greatness not age-related. Maybe not an answer that relates to individuals but, for me, a learning experience that I will follow up. Thank you all.

  12. Pianofortissimo says:

    Jussi Björling was great in the Italian repertoire, but he was even better when singing i Swedish. Just listen to ‘O Helga Natt’ in a recording that is played every year’s Christmas eve at midnight in the Swedish Radio:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVYCudlVMSM

    (Recorded at Stockholms Konserthus, 8 February 1959, with Kungliga Hovkapellet conducted by Nils Grevillius.)

    1. richard carlisle says:

      Magnificent, thank you.

  13. Marlene says:

    I heard Bjoreling many times live at the old Met. And believe me his voice was not small. I was there in the rafters for the Manon Lescaut with Bjoreling and Albanese and it was a performance I remember to this day. His “Pazzo son” was thrilling.

    1. Fred says:

      baloney, his voice was SMALL but projected pretty well if u were sitting in the right spot at least. Again the voice was kissed by the mikes. Magnificent timbre it was, according to the late Leo Riemens the voice was as big (or as small) as Joseph Schmidt’s. He heard both of them before WWII in the same venue.


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