BOX SET OF THE WEEK

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - CLASSICAL - DAVID MELLOR

This mag­nif­i­cent box does Bir­git Nils­son proud in this her cen­te­nary year. She was born in May 1918 and was the pre-em­i­nent Wag­ner so­prano from the late Fifties un­til the late Seven­ties.

Her range also ex­tended to the dra­matic so­prano roles of Verdi (par­tic­u­larly Aida, Un Ballo In Maschera and Mac­beth), Puc­cini (Tu­ran­dot, Tosca and La Fan­ci­ulla Del West), Richard Strauss (Elek­tra and Salome; truly mag­nif­i­cent) and even Mozart (Don Gio­vanni).

All these op­eras are pre­sented com­plete in this 79-CD set, as well as a ver­i­ta­ble feast of Wag­ner. Of spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance are two Rings; Ge­org Solti’s cel­e­brated stu­dio record­ing from Vi­enna and a live one from Bayreuth from 1966/67 un­der Karl Bohm when, vo­cally, Nils­son was in her ab­so­lute prime. Per­haps even bet­ter is her live 1966 Bayreuth Tris­tan & Isolde, also with Bohm.

There are 27 com­plete op­eras here, plus recitals, and two DVDs. One of these – Humphrey Bur­ton’s Golden Ring, chart­ing the fi­nal flour­ishes of the Solti Göt­ter­däm­merung record­ing – is ar­guably the finest DVD about opera ever pro­duced.

A 200-page, prop­erly bound book, on high-qual­ity pa­per with some evoca­tive pho­to­graphs, com­pletes a pack­age ev­ery Wag­ner lover should seek out. As well as a great singer, Nils­son was a great char­ac­ter. She feared no one and had an acid tongue. When asked to list the re­quire­ments for a great Tris­tan, she replied: ‘Sen­si­ble shoes.’ And when Her­bert von Kara­jan, the reign­ing podium gi­ant, whom she dis­liked, sent her a long list of op­eras he wanted her to record with him, she sent a two-word tele­gram back: ‘Busy. Bir­git.’

La Nils­son: The Com­plete Record­ings Decca, out now ★★★★★

Bir­git Nils­son as Tu­ran­dot at La Scala, Mi­lan, 1958

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