Published by
WQXR Features

From the Vaults: Jussi Björling and Company

Email a Friend

Often cited as the greatest lyric tenor of 20th century, Jussi Björling (1911-1960) was known for his effortless and suave voice as well as his tragically short career. In this 1991 episode of The Vocal Scene, the late host George Jellinek pays tribute to the Swedish singer.

By the time of his death of heart failure at age 49, Björling had left a definite imprint on the history of singing. As Mr. Jellinek notes, his recordings were "one of the great vocal landmarks of my generation." This episode traces the tenor’s career from the 1930s through the mid-50s and includes his collaborations with several other legendary artists.

Björling's career took off in his mid 20s. 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.

Among the post-war recordings featured here are the famous duet with Robert Merrill in Bizet's Pearl Fishers; a version of Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet; a Rodolfo opposite soprano Victoria de los Ángeles; Puccinis Manon Lescaut with soprano Licia Albanese; and an all-star Rigoletto with Roberta Peters and Robert Merrill.

Courtesy of the WQXR Collection-NYPR Archives