Jussi of the month
Great Success for Jussi in Florence 1943
Teatro Comunale i Florens
AFTER GUEST APPEARANCES IN USA during the 1940-41 season Jussi returned home in the spring of 1941. For the rest of the war years he remained in Europe, mainly in Sweden. His most important guest appearance took place in Florence in the spring of 1943.
Maria Caniglia 1905-1979
An elegant Jussi in Florence April 1943
Great Success for Jussi
Jussi in Florence April 1943.
Last night we were treated to a Manrico without precedent, the Swedish tenor Jussi Björling, a true surprise for the Florentine listeners, who admired his agile voice, rich in temperament but also softness, his great musicality, his convincing vocal expressivity, which puts him at the top of lyrical interpreters.
Also Swedish press paid great attention to Jussi Björling’s Italian successes. In Stockholms Tidningen their Rome editor, Gunnar D. Kumlien, wrote under the heading Jussi in Florence makes terrific success:
Jussi Björling has made terrific success in Florence. And being successful in Italy, the Promised Land of opera and the greatest opera singers of the world, where they are used to the very best singing technique and the most outstanding voice material and are hard to impress, is proof enough of Jussi Björling’s world class.
Some days ago the Italian radio arranged broadcasts with recordings of Jussi Björling. In the Florentine newspaper we now read about the premiere, where Jussi Björling sang the role of Manrico in Il trovatore, that the Swedish singer was a complete surprise and the Florentines were in raptures about his agile and expressive voice, his musical sensitivity and his acting, in other words all the qualities that are often missing in non-Italian opera singers, even though they otherwise arein possession of good vocal resources.
After several solo numbers and in particular after the third act Jussi Björling was furiously applauded. Jussi’s partner was the great Italian singer Maria Caniglia, who sang Leonora, and the critics found both singers worthy on equal terms. There were several curtain-calls for both singers after the performance. Something the audience also appreciated was Jussi’s moderate way of acting, without too theatrical exaggerations, which one unfortunately too often encounters on the Italian stages. On Wednesday Il trovatore will again be performed with the same artists.
It has not yet been decided whether Jussi will travel on to Rome. He has felt a bit isolated in Florence, since he is without company. The Swedish legation in Rome however immediately sent a young attaché to Florence to assist the Swedish singer and show him the wonderfully beautiful but unfortunately already too hot Florence.
Deeply Impressed Titta Ruffo
A deeply impressed Titta Ruffo
The legendary singer Titta Ruffo also heard Jussi’s Manrico at the premiere and was deeply impressed. Since Jussi sang three further performances of Il trovatore , on 28 April and 2 and 6 May, he had plenty of time to explore Florence.
In Anna-Lisa Björling’s and Andrew Farkas’ book Jussi Anna-Lisa recalls that Titta Ruffo brought Jussi out for walks in the city. During one of these excursions he bought a set with salt- and pepper shakers in silver in an antique shop, and then said to Jussi: “Bring them home to your wife – from me.” And henceforth they were always on the dinner table when the family had guests.
Finally a small mystery! Harald Henrysson once found an interview from the same period, where Jussi states that on an earlier occasion he had given a concert in Milan. Still Harald has not been able to track down further proof about this occasion. He has also contacted the author Stephen Hastings to investigate this, but he couldn’t find anything either.
Jussi sang the role of Manrico for the first time as early as 17 August 1935 at the Stockholm Opera. It was in his repertoire for the rest of his career and he was to sing it 67 times. The last performance took place on 29 March 1960 at the Cosmopolitan Opera in San Francisco. There is no recording of the performances in Florence in 194, but instead you can listen to Jussi singing Di quella pira at the end of act III, in a recording from the Metropolitan Opera 1941.
Berit Sjögren, member of the Board