A missive from Miss Nilsson

A missive from Miss Nilsson


norman lebrecht

March 17, 2011

Ahoy. Yo-ho, to-ho!

Birgit here. I may not be with you any longer but I am still watching, oh yes.
Some of you may know that when I was around I worked as hard as anyone, hitting all those horrible high notes and trying to look as if I thought Turandot had enough brains to pass a driving test on a donkey.
Somehow, I made a lot of money. I never asked for it. They threw it me, like bouquets. Maybe they couldn’t find anyone to sing so loud and high.
Anyway, I put some of the money into the farm and the rest into a prize. Well, why not? It might encourage others to do some good in this frustrating art.
So what happens? They give my prize to a conductor.

A conductor? A stick on Cuban heels. An anatomical appendage (it’s shorter in Swedish) with ego. A third wheel on a bicycle. An efterthought. 
They gave a million dollars of my hard-earned to Riccardo Muti.
What for? So he can buy himself a new train set? Or the whole of Alitalia? Or a month in a monastery for Signor Berlusconi. 
Why did these ants in pants give a million of my high notes to a man who can’t pass wind without a stick in his hand?
For heaven’s sake, Birgit Nilsson had many faults but she never put up with nonsense from that direction. Did the judges never read what I wrote about Karajan – ‘he was just using us’ – or Solti – ‘too slow’ – or any of the rest of the bigshots?
One of the panel, the British critic Christiansen – a closet Dane? – is a Muti fan. ‘I can scarcely wait to hear him conduct Macbeth at Salzburg this summer,’ he tells Daily Telegraph readers. Well bully for him, but who goes to see Verdi for the fellow who’s beating time? It’s singers that make it happen. The rest is decorative.
They had better watch out, those judges. I may be elsewhere but I can still hurl a thunderbolt and cause damage. These are Birgit’s kronor you are tossing about like confetti. Birgit does not like that. 
She is having coffee with Kirsten this morning. We have time between rehearsals. We will take stock. Be warned. We will, as that nice Mr Mercury suggested the other day at the Celestial Brits, we will rock you.
Oh, yes.
And tell that Muti I want to see receipts.


  • BobG says:

    Would Birgit really have said, “Well bully for him”? Just doesn’t sound like her.

  • mathias broucek says:

    What a strange story! Muti is presumably pretty rich already and will pick up a fat fee every time he picks up the baton.
    I suspect Ms Nilsson’s money would have been better spent on arts education, arts in the developing world or buying instruments for promising young fiddlers.
    Or perhaps the money could have gone to newly unemployed Brazilian musicians…..

  • Larry Murray says:

    With small and mid sized opera companies folding left and right, this waste of the great singer’s legacy contributes to the feeling of despair that I have about the current stewardship of our classical music establishment.

  • Jeremy Pound says:

    Where this otherwise amusing blog slightly falls on its backside is that Nilsson herself stipulated that the prize should be awarded either to a) a singer or b) a conductor.
    NL: was she of sound mind at the time?

  • Marcus Overton says:

    Oh, how wonderful, and bully for you. I can’t say I knew Miss Nilsson well, but I had the great pleasure (and anxiety-inducing responsibility) of being her stage manager, so to speak, on a few occasions (including a VALKYRIE) at Lyric Opera of Chicago. She was one of a handful of great singers who were not only complete professionals onstage but warm colleagues as well, treating everyone around her equally. And having a good time, well, that seemed to be the point of it all with her, always ready with a joke, always quick with a compliment (even to a lowely stage manager trying out some Swedish.) That was 40-plus years ago now, and her open-hearted good nature lights up this room even now as surely as if she were here.