Jussi of the Month - Sept. 2013

 

The Debut at the Metropolitan Opera 1938.

 

Jussi’s International Career Begins

1936 was a very important year for the 25-year-old Jussi with several new roles at the Royal Opera. The most important events in his career this year were however his first own tours outside Scandinavia with concerts in Vienna and opera in Prague in March, and more opera in Czechoslovakia and Vienna in May – June.

At this stage Jussi still sang opera only in Swedish, but he appeared with great success in Vienna in La bohème, Il trovatore and Aïda - the latter under the famous Italian conductor Victor de Sabata – and was re-engaged for February next year in eight different roles. On his way to Vienna 1937 Jussi Björling also guest-appeared at several of the big German opera houses, and his world career was definitely on the go. 

In 1937 he continued his work at the Royal Opera and also made his debut as film actor with one of the main roles in the comedy Fram för framgång, which was positively received at the premiere in February 1938.

In late autumn 1937 Jussi went west, to USA via Great Britain, where he made his British debut with a concert in London on 16 November, which gave rise to opinions like “a new Caruso”.

 

Jussi Returns to USA

As early as when he was eight, the years 1919 – 21, Jussi toured with his father and his brothers in USA. After the concert in London on 16 November 1937 it was time for Jussi to return to USA after 16 years, this time with his wife Anna-Lisa. The voyage with the transatlantic liner took nine days from Southampton to New York, where he started his eight-week-tour with the first of three broadcast concerts from Carnegie Hall.

Before Jussi left for USA he delivered a brief greeting in English, from a radio studio at Swedish Radio, to the American public before his imminent tour.

Listen here to Jussi's greeting to America in October 1937 

 

Successful Concert Tour Rendered Jussi a Metropolitan Contract

 

Before the voyage to USA an American manager had booked Jussi’s engagements as a concert tour.

Having among other things been singing opera in Chicago – Rigoletto and La bohème, both for the first time in Italian – Jussi finished his tour with a concert with piano at New York Town Hall, before returning to Sweden in January 1938.

In his luggage was then also a contract with the Metropolitan Opera.

The tour was a tremendous success and a worthy beginning to Jussi’s extensive American career. The Town Hall concert was described by a critic as a success “that is almost without precedent in our concert halls, whether large or small”, whereupon he in a summary of the singer’s qualities, speaks about a voice that not only owned “substance, sonority and a wide range” but also was “a young man’s completely unspoilt voice”. “His breath support is truly magnificent ... an extraordinarily well-equalized register, the attack is remarkably clean, his mezza voce exquisite ...”.

 

These American successes became the incentive for Jussi in February 1938 to cancel his contract with the Royal Opera as of the 1930/40 season. In the autumn 1938 Jussi had 53 opera roles in his stage repertoire, to which would be added only another two after WW2.

His next American tour opened on 13 November 1938 with a broadcast concert in Ford Sunday Evening Hour in Detroit. On 24 November Jussi’s much publicized Metropolitan debut in La bohème took place, well received by audience and critics alike, followed in December by Il trovatore. At the MET Jussi was to sing during fifteen seasons and in 121 performances in New York or on tour.

Thanks to the positive reviews and a successful audition for MET’s legendary director, Canadian Edward Johnson, Jussi was engaged for the following season. The debut was scheduled for 24 November 1938.

A lyrical critic wrote on 31 December 1937: “Outstanding among the events of the present season was Jussi Björling’s concert last night. The audience should regard themselves happy to have had the opportunity to hear the young Swedish tenor who, at only 26, is regarded as the greatest living tenor and now is the youngest singer at the Metropolitan Opera.”

On 5 December 1937 Jussi sang in a nationwide live broadcast. The radio station NBC in cooperation with General Motors relayed from Carnegie Hall a General Motors Concert – Opera Night. Jussi sang, among other things, Cavaradossi’s Recondita armonia  from Tosca.

Listen to Jussi singing the aria on 5 December 1937 

 

Nu stod han äntligen vid det mål som han så länge hade hade drömt om: att få sjunga på Metropolitan Opera i New York.

 

Jussi’s Debut at the MET on 24 November 1938

The years 1938 – 41 was the period when Jussi conquered the world. At Covent Garden, at the MET and on records he sang so brilliantly that he put all his competition in the shadow. 1938 was a memorable year with his MET-debut. 

 

 

Old MET, which was inaugurated in 1883 (replaced in 1966 by the new MET) had a magnificent auditorium, seating 3,600. This evening, 24 November 1938, a snowstorm was rampaging New York and Jussi was to make his MET debut as Rodolfo in La bohème. MET was sold out. Anna-Lisa was sitting in Edward Johnson’s box.

Curtain up and the play was on. Everything went well to begin with and it was time for Jussi to sing his aria Che gelida manina (Your tiny hand is frozen) with the high C near the end. Jussi was terribly nervous. His whole future was in jeopardy, he had to succeed. Jussi’s left leg started shivering violently and continued until the high C had died away.

Then the applause broke loose with the curtain up and lasted for a minute. The orchestra flourished – which was very uncommon at the MET. Jussi’s ordeal was over.

Edward Johnson was very satisfied – He is the boy he whispered to Anna-Lisa. There were lots of curtain-calls, the audience shouted Björling, Björling and even the stage crew applauded.

Noted critics heaped superlatives upon Jussi. One critic regarded Jussi the best tenor to have been heard in America for many years. Edward Johnson was enthusiastic. After this enormous success Jussi has to sing not only Faust and Bohème next year but also Rigoletto.

A 27-year-old Jussi from Stora Tuna had scored a success at the Metropolitan Opera. A world tenor was born.

Listen to Jussi as Rodolfo from a live concert in 1939 

 

The cast at the Metropolitan Opera debut on 24 November 1938

LA BOHÈME {330}
Puccini-Illica/Giacosa
Mimì....................Mafalda Favero [Debut]
Rodolfo..........Jussi Björling [Debut]
Musetta.................Marisa Morel [Debut]
Marcello................John Brownlee
Schaunard...............George Cehanovsky
Colline.................Norman Cordon
Benoit..................Louis D'Angelo
Alcindoro...............Louis D'Angelo
Parpignol...............Max Altglass
Sergeant................Carlo Coscia
Conductor...............Gennaro Papi
Director................Désiré Defrère
Costume designer........Blaschke & Cie

 

 

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The Jussi Björling Society was founded on January 7, 1989. Its task is to promote interest in and spread knowledge about Jussi Björling, his vocal art, life and career.

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Jussi Favourites of the Board Members

Hans Thunström presents his favourite recording.

Read about and listen to the favourite


The Jussi Björling Museum

Jussi Björling Museet

The Jussi Björling Museum Greets You!

 

BORLÄNGE  is the place where Jussi Björling was born. Here is also his own museum, the only Björling Museum in the world. "Of all singers' museums, this is the best", accordning to the late John Steane, noted British music critic.

 

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Monday - Friday 11-18
Saturday 10-14
Sunday 12-17
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