From the Vaults: Jussi Björling and Company

Thursday, October 07, 2010

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

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Comments [5]


90% of Mr. Lane's comments are about him. Hello, this has to do with Jussi, not him!

Feb. 09 2013 07:37 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from

I had known George from the early 1970s, writing to him to both his WQXR address on 5th Avenue and his Hastings on Hudson residence regarding the techniques taught me, a heldentenor, by the "Met" Opera legends Friedrich Schorr, Margarete Matzenauer, Alexander Kipnis, Frieda Hempel, Karin Branzell, and John Brownlee.

Except for fellow Hungarian Matzenauer, he had heard my teachers in opera or concert performances. And his commentaries were consistent with what one would surmise from their teaching and their recordings, both commercial and off-air "Met" broadcasts. Having heard my singing voice, he wrote "Kenneth Lane's CDs are quite an achievement, displaying wide scope, fine musicianship, and, above all, his stamina!" As he suggested, the heralds and seven foot posters for my third and fourth main hall, Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall solo concerts printed his critique.

As the director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, I further the training of professionals in the concepts I have learned from my teachers, my own experience, and the insights imparted from the incomparable warm-hearted knowledgable George Jellinek. Before my fourth Carnegie Hall solo concert I recorded, at George's suggestion, one minute advertisements before the season's "Met" broadcasts on WQXR, with snippets of my recordings of selections to be heard. in the concert.

That concert was on Thursday May 28, 1998, at 8pm, an All-Wagner program entitled "Wagner--The Epic and the Lyric".

On September 5, 1997, George spoke and played recordings at the Vocal Record Collector's Society and in June 2001 for the Jussi Bjorling Society, George moderated a panel of perforners who had partnered Bjjorling: Robert Merrill, Regina Resnik, Licia Albanese, and Lucine Amara, and his sons Anders and Lars. His scholarship and personal warmth were endearing to us as attending members.

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Wagnerian heldentenor

Oct. 23 2010 05:14 PM
Rev. Robert P. Mitchell from Bushkill, PA

I was still in high school when my brother came home for Christmas 1955 from a Navy stint in the Mediterranean armed with the now legendary LP of Bjorling's 1954 Carnegie Hall recital. I still have it. When I listened to it I fell in love with that voice. I had never heard anything quite like it. Oh yes, a couple of years prior Mario Lanza in the STUDENT PRINCE inspired me to become an opera singer, but I had never heard anything like this. "I've got to sing like Jussi," I vowed to myself.
Of course, Bjorling's voice and singing were unique - even his son Rolf does not sound quite like him. But Jussi inspired me for the rest of my singing career. In all the 40 or so roles I sang I approached them with his singing in mind. And my graduation recital from the Mannes College of Music 1964 as well as a 1974 Bronx Museum Recital contained much of the music on that beloved LP.
Thank you, Jussi!

Oct. 11 2010 11:37 AM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

I believe that in an interview, Caruso's widow said that Jussi sounded like Caruso. I grew up listening to Jussi on the Met Opera broadcasts. God rest his soul.
When my teen-aged son first heard Jussi from a recording I had, he said "Mom, who the hell is that? He too became a fan.

Oct. 09 2010 11:11 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from Lake Hiawatha, NJ

JUSSI BJORLING sang with such beauty of voice, musicianship, and ease of vocal production with a repertoire that encompassed a wide diversity of music, including his definitive rendering of music of his native Sweden. Comparisons with other legendary singers is not appropriate, since each have qualities unique to themselves. In that regard Caruso, Roswaenge, Tauber, McCormack, Melchior, Gigli, Corelli, and Lanza and others of their ilk have their own timbre and their own zealous fans. They all deserve their fame and listening, entranced audiences.

Oct. 09 2010 10:27 AM

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