Jussi Björling Society - USA



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A Sovereign Artistry

Holger Löwenadler

Jussi Björling! I remember all the times I heard the young tenor in the 1930s: he was the impecunious, enamoured Rodolfo in La bohème; the cynical Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto; Cavaradossi, the fighter for liberty in Tosca; Manon Lescaut’s noble des Grieux; the lyrical Roméo or Faust; the despairing Canio. The voice was always the same—warm, healthy, beautiful. Dramatically speaking, there was not all that much difference between the various characters. It was the young Jussi, unaffected, a little awkward, not strikingly gifted as an actor. But he made his way out into the world and returned. I went to hear him again—the same golden voice, a little darker and more expansive with the years, the same sovereign artistry in which everything sounded so easy; but dramatically, the performance was each time more free, more nuanced, more smilingly assured—though never cocksure. It was an impressive, interesting development which demonstrated what success, properly used, can deliver from a latent talent. His last performances at the Stockholm Opera—I’m thinking here chiefly of Rodolfo and des Grieux—were unforgettable. In these the beautiful voice of the early years was joined by the depth and warmth of mature experience. Jussi in private: I can’t say that I knew him very well. We would meet in the street or in Dr. Bertil Kågén’s rooms as we waited to have our vocal cords checked. He was always friendly —a nice, decent chap. The admiring words I always felt a pleasure in being able to say to him in appreciation of the most recent performance were received with modest gratitude: “Really, do you think so—well, it wasn’t so bad. I felt in good form.” No self-dissection, no boasting. In his simple, good-hearted manner he had authority, and one felt that one had met a real personality. There would sometimes be something searching in his look, an appeal in a tone of voice which hinted that he was not the uncomplicated man which first impressions indicated. It is not the tangible things alone that create a great artist. And this evening, the 9th October 1960, I have heard that warm, brilliant voice again on the radio. But sadly, cruelly, above the singer’s name in the newspaper were printed the words “Memorial programme.”

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