Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Jussi Björling ..(1911-1960) ..Perhaps the greatest operatic tenor of the 20th century

He was a great singer..Maybe great is too weak a word for him..He was an amazingly gifted and unique singer. There have been but few like him. I can only think of two who have a chance at beating him or matching him in the history of the 20th century. In the world of operatic tenors there are 3 greats of the 20th century. Bjorling, Caruso, Corelli...Now there are many near greats Pavarotti, Domingo, and Gigli to name a few.

But as much as I love Caruso and Corelli I am amazed at the beauty, style, and quality of his singing. When he died in 1960 there was a most interesting obituary. It spent a bit of time talking about his singing style. It said and I am paraphrasing....
Bjorling never gulped, grabbed or slid to his notes like a cow on a well polished floor, Like many of his Italian contemporaries.......

He was unique and amazing. But there was a dark side of Jussi. He was a dreadful alcoholic! He was abusive and nasty when drunk, yet lovely and gentle when sober.

I recall Jerome Hines talking about Bjorling one night to me. He said......" One night me and the family went to a restaurant for dinner. The waiter was very upset. I asked him what was wrong and he said to me that last night Bjorling was at the restaurant and treated his family and everyone else so badly that I went home and broke every one of his records". In short he was a VERY nasty drunk.

Robert Merrill mentioned that Bjorling would ask him as they walked together " Come on Bob, let's just have one drink". He was lucky to have people around him who loved him. Merrill would do his best to redirect him away from the bars.

He was a god in world of song, yet he was always a victim to alcohol. I was glad to know several who knew him and all said he was a great artist. He was a great singer and perhaps the only one who gave Caruso a run for his money.
Mrs. Caruso said to him in 1951, that he was the only one worthy to take the crown from her famous husband. In fact she said that Jussi was the singer who sounded the most like her husband.

But all of his harshness to his body caught up with him. He died at the young age of 49. He had for several years a weak heart. He beat up his body such that his heart could go no more, and he died in his sleep of a heart attack in 1960.

But his was a voice that was beyond our understanding. Thanks to recorded sound we can still hear that voice.

So now he has been gone for 47 years. I was just a little boy when he died and do not recall him, but of course from the time I was a child I knew of him. How could you not!!
I remember my music teacher playing Bjorling records for me when I was a boy and thrilling to his voice. I still do.

So I invite you to listen to the voice of this great artist, and enjoy what many have for the last 70 years. It is a great experience...One you will not soon forget.