BOX SET OF THE WEEK
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