125 Moments: 089 Birgit Nilsson

Sir Georg Solti and Birgit Nilsson studying the score for Strauss’s Salome

Terry’s Photography

Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson sang the title role in Strauss’s Salome with Sir Georg Solti leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in concerts at Orchestra Hall on December 13 and 15, 1974, and on December 18 in Carnegie Hall. The cast also included Ruth Hesse as Herodias, Ragnar Ulfung as Herod, Norman Bailey as Jochanaan and George Shirley as Narraboth.

“Superb is hardly the word for Miss Nilsson’s performance of the title role. Hers was a formidable triumph,” wrote Karen Monson in the Chicago Daily News. “She had superb help from Solti, who conducted the mightily convoluted score ingeniously . . . [maintaining] a miraculous balance between voices and instruments.”

December 13 and 15, 1974

“The key to the performance was the combination of the great Salome voice of the century with the great Salome conductor of our day and an orchestra that has been dedicated to Strauss’s cause for all its 84 years,” added Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times. Nilsson “gave a performance which, I believe, could not have been duplicated for its strength and depth of insight and vocal richness by any other living singer.”

Following the December 18 concert in Carnegie Hall, Harold C. Schoenberg in The New York Times concluded, “This was a Salome of thrilling impact, well deserving of the cheers that greeted the last note. Mr. Solti remains the conducting idol of New York.”

Nilsson would appear with the Orchestra once more, on a run-out concert to Michigan State University for the gala opening and dedication of the Wharton Center for Performing Arts on September 25, 1982. She performed excerpts from Wagner’s operas, including “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser and Isolde’s narrative from act 1 and the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde. Reynald Giovaninetti conducted.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: 125 Moments was created to celebrate the ensemble’s 125th season in 2015-16 and gathered significant events, illustrated with imagery and artifacts from the collections of the Rosenthal Archives.

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