Jussi Björling Society - USA



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What should I play first?
An exchange from the Yahoo Björling discussion group in reply to the following query

(responses organized by list member Hans Thunström): 

“A woman in my building, a fan of Domingo, Pavarotti, Bocelli (the usual suspects) has never!!! heard Björling. After gently explaining that these were merely good singers, I promised to show this poor, deprived person what great singing could be. So, she's stopping by next week to be "enlightened." My question: What should I play first to instantly convince her to fall to her knees and thank me for opening her ears and changing her life? I'm leaning towards “O Holy Night”, followed by “Nessun dorma” from the complete set, then if she's still conscious and hasn't fallen into a Bjorlingesque swoon, the “Pearl Fishers duet”. Any suggestions welcome.”

”Richard, if this individual likes hearty numbers with stentorian high notes at the end, Jussi's “Because” (1948) will do for starters; “Cielo e mar” (no one has performed better), “Nessun dorma” (mais oui!), “Salut! Demeure” (1950 or 1939), and the 194l “La donna è mobile” will make her sit up and take notice. Never heard anyone top these. Keep in mind that, regrettably, all these recordings are in mono, so you will be competing with DVD and high-end stereo that favor Jussi's competitors. Hope you make a convert.”

“Richard, I would start out with “Donna non vidi mai”, then move to “Lamento di Frederico”, Lensky's aria (1960), and finish with “Morgen”. Anyone not hooked after that lacks a soul.”

“I'd vote for Millöcker's Beggar-student, the aria "I'm broke and free as a bird" with its final high D-flat, for simple appeal and flamboyance, and follow that up with the Pearlfishers friendship duet: for intensity and tonal beauty. If those things work, you can go in many directions - the Belle Helene/Helen of Troy aria to illustrate more of what's in the Beggar-student aria; and a Swedish song like one of Alfvén's to illustrate the melancholy beauty that Jussi put into those songs. Then how about a few excerpts from Trovatore: the first act trio, the “Mal reggendo” scene, the act 3 arias, the act 4 final trio, say.”

“Richard, please try “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” and “Till havs” and “the Entrance of Paris”. They never fail! Good luck!!”

“I believe that this woman probably likes sweet lyrical singing. Try the sweetest of arias to begin with, i.e. Tosti's “Ideale” from 1937, then do “Cielo e mar” 1937, “Che gelida manina” (live San Francisco 1949), “O paradise” 1937 and of course “Pearl Fishers duet” with Merrill. She should be all yours by then...as a matter of speaking... and you could really bring in the heavy artillery to totally win her over: “Nessun dorma” live Stockholm 1944 conducted by Tor Mann with its 15 seconds "Vincero", “Ah si, ben mio” and “Di quella pira” from Covent Garden 1939, “O Helga Natt” 1959. Then finish her off with “Ingemisco” 1938 (which as you know Classic CD used as an example describing why Björling was the best SINGER ever, let alone best tenor.) and “Salut! demeure chaste pure” live in Holland. There's no need to mention more songs and arias for now, because by this time she'll love whatever you put on the disc, be it lieder, Scandinavian songs, arias or duets. Do keep clear of Mr. Odde though.”

“Yes, what would be more suitable for finishing someone off than a part of Verdi's Requiem?

“In about 1970 I worked for the recently deceased Mr. Rogers. His crew chief was a big opera fan, and he played for me the Pavarotti “Ingemisco”. "You've never heard anything like this," he said, and, truly, it wasn't bad at all. I replied, "Oh, yeah?" and played the Bjorling-Reiner “Ingemisco”. End of discussion. I will never forget the look on his face, with his jaw hanging open. So that's my recommendation- a recording that has everything, most significantly the expression of our deepest need for goodness and forgiveness. Björling was a great singer and an even greater artist!”

“Very eloquent, David, and probably explains why so many friends have confided to me that this is the aria, and artist, whose recording they want played at their funeral! The only question is, which version? and this always comes down to, the 1938 version or the 1960? (the 1938 has a kind of quiet intimacy, compared to the later one, that is deeply affecting, in itself.) Recall Ann-Charlotte's reaction, listening in the control booth as this 1960 recording was being made: she was used to him singing well. But here, for the “Ingemisco”, the singing "was so incredibly good, I just sat there and thought, who is this? And then the realization came: this is my father!" In an interview with Andrew Farkas (see JUSSI, p. 337), she recalled "that this was probably the only time she separated her Daddy from the singer in her mind.”

“And how about "Ombra mai fu" from Atlanta? That crescendo at the start is incredible. Or "Wandrer's Nachtlied?" Stunning.”

“Just wanted to thank all of you for your terrific suggestions. It was like being at Heaven's buffet and not knowing what to choose first. Because she has Pavarotti doing it, I began with “O Holy Night”. Her reaction? She couldn't believe it and asked me to play it again. When he again sang that final B she had (yes, I'm not exaggerating) tears in her eyes. I then proceeded to “Che gelida manina” (from the Beecham set), the 78 of “Nessun dorma”, and the “Amor ti vieta” on the LP conducted by Erede. At this point she expressed a need for a second glass of wine...(the poor dear needed a calmative, plus she was shaking her head and asking, "Where have I been?" (She's only 32 years old). The second part consisted of “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair”, “Mattinata”, “Visa kring slånbom och månskära”, “Tonerna” and “Paris's Entrance”, all conducted by Grevillius. She wanted to go to Tower Records to buy out the Jussi CD section but I insisted she hear one more (you guessed it): “Ingemisco” which, again, brought tears. Needless to say, she's a confirmed addict. Again, thanks for all your suggestions."

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