Jussi of the Month – December 2013
In December 1954 something unusual happened in Jussi’s career. Not since 1944 had he spent the whole Christmas month in Sweden. Now the audience at the Stockholm Royal Opera could enjoy him in a number of guest appearances from the end of November until the beginning of May 1955.
In Jussi of the Month we go back to December 1954 and two interesting occurrences you can read about and listen to from authentic recordings.
In December 1954 Jussi had not since he resumed his American touring in October 1945 managed to spend the whole Christmas month in Sweden. In the beginning of the year persistent throat problems had forced him to long periods of rest, but by the summer he had recovered and in the autumn he sang for the first time in South Africa, in Stuttgart in Germany and in Yugoslavia. At the end of November he began a series of guest appearances at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, and he didn’t return to the US, as he usually did, but returned from time to time to Stockholm in six different parts.
On 1 December 1954 Jussi appeared for the first time in a new production of Cavalleria rusticana, then entitled På Sicilien (In Sicily), and Pagliacci. Both works were in Stockholm sung in Swedish. In Cavalleria however Jussi sang as guest in Italian, but in Pagliacci he, like the rest of the cast sang in Swedish – which he always did when he appeared in that role on stage. Fortunately Swedish Radio recorded the second Jussi-evening with Cav/Pag on 8 December. The operas were broadcast on different occasions next year and were issued on discs together in 2000 by Bluebell (ABCD 085).
Bluebell ABCD 085
Nobody should miss this recording, maybe in particular for Jussi’s Canio, where his identification with the desperate clown is utterly tangible. His wife Anna-Lisa liked it best of all his roles. Critic Teddy Nyblom in Aftonbladet, who certainly could be critical of Jussi, wrote: “As he sang Turiddu in På Sicilien and in particular Canio in Pajazzo he has never done before, with an undertone of noble warmth and true feeling like an extra glow around his super-musical rendering, practically perfect acting and fabulous security.”
Jussi as Canio i Pagliacci December 1954. Photo Enar Merkel Rydberg.
December 1954 will also be illustrated by a unique appearance with Jussi’s own Christmas greeting, for once preserved on tape. In 1951 Södersjukhuset (The Southern Hospital) in Stockholm had started Sjukhusradion (The Hospital Radio), close circuit radio broadcasts that existed until 1978, and in due time reached 15 hospitals and at least 50,000 patients every month. A number of our greatest artists took part in the entertainment programme Pillerdosan (The Pillbox). e.g. Birgit Nilsson, Nicolai Gedda and Alice Babs.
In 1954 Jussi was available and a few days before Christmas Eve a programme was recorded before an audience at the hospital, where he rounded off with a Christmas Greeting to the patients, before he sang what is probably his most beloved song, at least in Sweden, Adam’s O Holy Night. Here we have an opportunity to hear Jussi in a version with Harry Ebert at the piano, a more lyrical reading than the famous recording with full orchestra from 1959. And we get Jussi’s Christmas Greeting in the bargain!
The recording is from ”Jussi Björling Live” (West Hill Radio Archives WHRA-6036), a 4-CD box at bargain price with lots of rarities in state-of-the-art transfers.