The Vocal Scene with George Jellinek: Jussi Bjorling

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

On this episode from February 1977, host George Jellinek looks back at the legendary Swedish tenor’s 30-year career, exploring his “effortless high C’s” and the qualities that made his voice unique.

Often cited as the greatest lyric tenor of 20th century, Björling (1911-1960) was known for his effortless and suave voice as well as his tragically short career. 

By the time of his death of heart failure at age 49, Björling had left a definite imprint on the history of singing. His career took off in his mid 1920s. His earliest discs were all in Swedish, including a 1938 version of the Johann Strauss operetta The Gypsy Barron. Around that same period, he made his Vienna debut as Radames in Aida, toured Europe and appeared for the first time in the U.S., in a Chicago production of Rigoletto. His Met debut as Rodolfo in La bohème came in 1938, which was followed by four other tenor roles before the outbreak of World War II. His international career resumed after the war.


  1. Bjorling: Male Voice Quartet  1920
  2. de Curtis:  Carmela 1931
  3. Offenbach: La Belle Helene  The entrance song of Paris
  4. Puccini:  La Boheme: Che gelida manina  1936
  5. Gounod:  Faust  Salut, demeure   1939
  6. Gounod:  Romeo and Juliet Ah! Leve-toi, soleil  1945
  7. Foster: I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair 1948
  8. Verdi:  Aida:  Final Duet  with  Zinka Milanov   1955
  9. Verdi:  Requiem  Imgemisco 1959
  10. d’Hardelot: Because 1960
  11. Beethoven:  Adelaida
  12. Puccini:  La Gioconda: Cielo e Mar 

Comments [6]

gloria from NYC

How wonderful to hear George Jellinek & his Vocal Scene again. Wish thes broadcasts were available for purchase. Jellinek also moderated the George London concert series at the Morgan Library for many years. His interviews of Roberta Peters, Rise Stevens and so many other veteran singers were funny, informative just priceless. When the interview ended
the newer singers, Bryn Terfel, Thomas Hampson, etc. took the stage. Sadly, after Jellinek retired the series didn't seem the same.

Sep. 23 2013 01:58 PM
Suzanne from Ithaca from Ithaca, NY

I'm so excited to discover this archive, on this website, just tonight!

I attended Barnard College in the 70s and listened to WQXR as much as possible; "The Vocal Scene" on Thursday nights at 10 was something I never missed. I remember hearing this broadcast of Jellinek's the first time around, and so many others--a tribute to Richard Tauber (I had to write Jellinek a fan letter as a result), Caruso rarity recordings (like his "Coat aria" from La Bohème), and comparisons of Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras. What an education from the radio!

I wish we could buy the Jellinek broadcasts....

How wonderful it was to hear him routinely on the Saturday Met broadcasts, during the Opera Quiz! that was a golden age indeed.

Thanks so much.

Aug. 10 2013 10:41 PM
PK from nj

Thank you for presenting this special program of Bjoerling's incomparable voice!

More classic programs like this would by greatly appreciated.

Jun. 25 2013 08:10 PM
Suzanne from New York

The month of June has gone so quickly!! Thank you, WQXR, for replaying these wonderful programs from "The Vocal Scene." I fervently hope that you will continue to "open the vault" on the marvelous legacy of George Jellinek periodically and often! The Callas and Bjoerling programs of this installment are two of the best such artist appreciations Mr. Jellinek gave us.

Jun. 25 2013 05:33 PM
Kevin from New York

Thank you for replaying George Jellinek's invaluable Vocal Scene, and especially for highlighting the artistry of Jussi Bjorling.

My own love of opera began with hearing "Una furtiva lagrima" on a Bjorling lp when I was just 10 years old.

45 years later, I still find Bjorling unsurpassed, a tenor voice for the ages.

Thank you WQXR.

Jun. 25 2013 04:25 PM
Les from Miami, Florida

Many thanks for re-playing this episode of "The Vocal Scene". Mr. Jellinek spoke of being "stopped in his tracks" when he first heard Mr. Bjoerling's recording of "Che gelida manina" while passing by a record shop. For me, it was when I first played my father's copy of "Ch'ella mi creda" from "La Fanciulla del West", the 1937 recording, and the second of the three Mr. Bjoerling made. He always imbued arias that beg for a poignancy and a melancholy with their full measure, as exemplified by "Ch'ella mi creda" and "Non piangere, Liu" from "Turandot". One could go on and on. I'm also one of the millions of life-long fans.

Jun. 25 2013 03:30 PM

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