Birgit Nilsson recalls

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January 25, 2006 by AK

The great Wagnerian soprano Birgit Nilsson, who died on Christmas Day, 2005, had a great sense of humor. A few years ago, Martha Moedl, Birgit Nilsson and Astrid Varnay gave a talk about their careers for the Bavarian TV. A few lighter quotes from Nilsson:

And then you often ate at the “Adler” [in Bayreuth], you could eat well there. And Astrid was such a big star, and the menu never changed, but one day I came, and there was “Omelette alla Varnay” on the menu. I asked “What is Omelette alla Varnay”? “It was with wild raspberries” So I said, I have to have that! So they brought it and I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was moving! The raspberries were wild, so they were full of worms! Of course I made a bittersweet comment, and the next day there was “Rump steak alla Nilsson!”

In my experience, it is garden raspberries that attract “worms” (maggots, I think); wild forest raspberries are tight and clean though not as sweet. But Bavaria must be different. I should try and translate what Tchaikovsky had to say about food at the Bayreuth festival. Omelelette with raspberries must be a Belgian import.

Here’s Nilsson on Karajan:

Making music with him was marvelous. But doing theater with him wasn’t so marvelous. He was a lighting technician. We walked around like blind pilgrims looking for some light, with our faces tilted up to catch some if we found it. If you liked his lighting everything was fine! […] Once he said, “Frau Nilsson, do that again, but this time with heart. You know your heart, it is there where your wallet is.” “Then we have at least one thing in common, Herr von Karajan” I replied. But I think he thought it was funny.

When Marjorie Lawrence took a real live horse onstage at the Met in 1936, it all went well, but they are tricky things, these horses:

I had a Grane in Stockholm. I fed him sugar at all the rehearsals, but at the premiere I was so nervous and forgot to bring the sugar. I came on stage, and he wanted his sugar, and he bit me! I had to keep leading him around the stage to keep him occupied. The veterinarian was in the front row. He was white as a sheet, he was afraid we’d land up in the orchestra pit! He was so nasty, that horse! The only thing I could do was keep walking and walking and singing. At the end there was an ovation, and one man stood up and clapped and blew kisses. When I’d removed my makeup and left the theater, he was still there, and he said “Oh, Frau Nilsson, you were magnificent!” “I’m glad you liked my Bruennhilde,” I said. “Oh, yes, Bruennhilde,” he said, “That was fine, but I’ve never seen a woman handle a horse the way you can!”


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