Nina wins the $1 million Birgit

Nina wins the $1 million Birgit


norman lebrecht

May 15, 2018

press release:

Birgit Nilsson Foundation President Rutbert Reisch announced today in Stockholm that the ($1 million) Birgit Nilsson Prize for 2018 will be awarded to Nina Stemme. The Prize Award Ceremony will take place in the presence of Their Majesties King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia on October 11, 2018 at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm, Sweden, at which time the Prize will be presented by His Majesty. At the ceremony, the Royal Opera Orchestra led by American conductor Evan Rogister will accompany renowned Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel and Swedish soprano Christina Nilsson.

Also announced at the press conference, the Birgit Nilsson Foundation will be transferred in January 2019 to the care of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in Stockholm.

Upon receiving news of the Birgit Nilsson Prize, Nina Stemme commented, “It is a great honour to be recognized for my work, but it is even greater to be recognized in my home country by a world-renowned organization that bears the name and carries the legacy of a legend…my idol Birgit Nilsson. As this is her centenary, receiving this award becomes a most humbling and extraordinary honour. I am very grateful to be connected with this great lady and to be in the company of Maestro Domingo, Maestro Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic, all of whom have previously received this extraordinary award.”

The judges, who serve for renewable three-year periods, have remained the same for 2011, 2014 and 2018. They are:
Bengt Hall, former Managing Director of the Malmö Opera, and former General Manager of the Royal Swedish Opera Stockholm
Eva Wagner-Pasquier, former Co-Director of the Bayreuth Festival
Clemens Hellsberg, former President of the Vienna Philharmonic
Rupert Christiansen, Opera Critic of the Daily Telegraph and Member of the Editorial Board of OPERA
Speight Jenkins, former General Director of the Seattle Opera.



    For readers’ information, we are strictly nominated as an Advisory Panel rather than Judges

  • anon says:

    1) Is it really a good idea to transfer the Nilsson prize to the Swedish Royal Academy given how the Nobel in literature this year has been cancelled due to the #metoo scandal involving the Academy?

    2) Ms. Stemme is a worthy artist, no doubt. 14% of Nobel Prizes in literature went to Swedes, when the population of Sweden represents only 0.13% of the world population. The Swedes must be heck of good writers. Quick, without thinking: name a Swedish writer.

  • Algot says:

    The Swedish Royal Academy of Music has nothing to do with the Royal Academy that awards Nobel prizes in litterature. Strindberg. Quick, name a better Wagner soprano.

    • Caravaggio says:

      Name a better Wagner soprano? If you think Stemme rises to the standards established by Nilsson, Flagstad, Varnay and others you are mistaken. But in times of diminished (not diminishing) returns, I suppose she is the Wagnerest of all. So many have grown inured to substandard singing in the absence of the real deal.

      • David Geary says:

        Glad you mentioned Varnay. Sweden seems to have ignored the fact that Varnay, although not a swedish citizen, was born in Sweden just three weeks before Nilsson. She also would have 100 this year. (April 25th)

      • Cassandre says:

        Tutto declina

    • Bruce says:

      ^ he probably meant to say “currently singing.” Nobody is ever going to measure up to Nilsson and Flagstad, just as Babe Ruth will always be the greatest baseball player and Pelé the greatest footballer, etc. etc. to the point where nobody seriously contests for those titles even if they are just as good or (god forbid) better.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        There may be baseball players better than Babe Ruth, and there may be footballers better than Pele, but there is no better Batsman in cricket than Bradman.

  • Brian says:

    This is raised every year, but I wonder how many struggling opera theaters could have used that $1 million? Or young opera singers buried in student loan debt? Or companies doing outreach in underserved neighborhoods. But, no glamour in giving money to such things.

    • Bill says:

      Presumably, Nilsson decided this was how she wanted her money to be spent. Your job is to convince someone who hasn’t yet made an irrevocable bequest that they want to spend their money the way you want. Or make your own pile and give it away as you see fit. I agree completely that there are many potentially worthy donations which might have a bigger impact than giving the big lump sum to a person or institution which probably is not in dire straits. It is also possible to go too far in spreading the wealth.

    • Alan says:

      This is like criticising someone who has amassed large personal wealth and chooses to spend it or donate it too causes you do not approve. It is not your business. You are entitled to comment but don’t get too frustrated if your pleas are ignored. This leads to the politics of envy, and all the regular hand wringing when the Sunday Times Rich List is published.

  • Tamino says:

    Is the price money given under the requirement to donate it to a good cause? I would hope so.

    I’m wondering about the purpose of this price. Is it to amend the Nobel price with the classical music branch? (thus the sum, matching the Nobel price sum roughly)

    And shouldn’t it go primarily then to composers, creators, rather than interpreters?

  • collin says:

    The prize is basically the Oscar’s Life Time Achievement Award for opera. Judging from past winners, Muti, Vienna… one can basically induce who the future winners will be: Gergiev, Berlin …. could’ve been Levine… certainly a few more Swedes…

  • Bruce says:

    I mean this is great, but I can’t get very excited about prizes that people win for already being famous.

    I do like the idea of the prize — I forget the name of it, but Itzhak Perlman won it recently — where the winner’s job is to distribute the money to younger, lesser-known artists/companies that they feel are deserving.