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Jussi Björling, lyric tenor

By February 29, 2020June 27th, 2024No Comments

Jussi Björling, (Björling’s more formal name was Johan Jonaton Björling), was born February 2, 1911, Stora Tuna, Sweden, and he died on September 9, 1960, Siarö, near Stockholm. He was a Swedish tenor who was admired for the musicianship of his performances, particularly in the Italian and French repertoires.

At the age of six Björling began singing under the guidance of his father, who then took him and his two brothers on tours in Scandinavia and the United States as a vocal quartet. At 17 he began his studies at the Royal Opera School in Stockholm, where he made his operatic debut in 1930 as Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He appeared as guest performer in several opera houses in Europe before achieving a huge success at Covent Garden, London, in 1936. In the following year he gave his premiere performances in the United States, first on the radio, then on stage in Chicago.

Björling was a full lyric tenor, whose exquisite musicianship and vocal production has long since vanished from this earth. Listen for the unimpeded flow of breath and tone. The air seems as if it goes straight to the resonating cavities of the head and face. His was a very beautiful voice.

The first line of this aria uses the verb “dormire”, to sleep.  But it is either in a subjunctive or imperative form.  I have chosen to use the imperative, but it could be equally translated as “let no one sleep”.

Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o Principessa
Nella tua fredda stanza
Guardi le stelle che tremano
D’amore e di speranza!
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me
Il nome mio nessun saprà!
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dirò
Quando la luce splenderà!
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà
Il silenzio che ti fa mia!
(ll nome suo nessun saprà
E noi dovrem, ahimè! Morir! Morir!)
Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle! All’alba vincerò!
Vincerò! Vincerò!

No one sleep, no one sleep!
Even you, oh Princess,
In your cold room,
Watch the stars,
That tremble with love
And with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me,
No one shall know my name,
No… no…
On your mouth, I shall tell it,
When the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!
(No one will know his name and we must, alas, die.)
Vanish, o night! Fade, stars!
Fade, stars! At dawn, I shall win!
I shall win! I win!

A few comments on this aria. It is extremely famous, and it really a helden (heroic) aria. The female lead is written for a high dramatic soprano. It is one of the hardest roles in the Italian repertoire to sing.

Björling was one of the great tenors of the 20th century. The smoothness of the vocal production and the vocal ease are truly amazing. Björling made many recordings of this aria. At times the aria sounded just too big for him, but not in this recording.

I am also giving you Jonas Kaufmann singing the same aria. Kaufmann has a lot of difficulty in singing this aria, and his sound production seems to me as if he is screaming.  He is certainly screaming when he tries to sing the high notes.  But you make your own judgment.

Salut! demeure chaste et pure,
Salut! demeure chaste et pure,
Où se devine la présence
d’une âme innocente et divine!
Que de richesse en cette pauvreté!
En ce réduit, que de félicité!
Que de richesse,
Que de richesse en cette pauvreté!
Ô nature, C’est là
que tu la fis si belle!
C’est là que cet enfant
A dormi sous ton aile,
A grandi sous tes yeux.
Là que de ton haleine
Enveloppant son âme
Tu fis avec l’amour épanouir la femme
En cet ange des cieux!
C’est là! Oui, c’est là!
Salut! demeure chaste et pure,
Salut! demeure chaste et pure,
Où se devine la présence
d’une âme innocente et divine!
Salut, salut, demeure chaste et pure, etc.

I greet you, home chaste and pure,
I greet you, home chaste and pure,
Where one senses the presence
Of an innocent and divine soul!
How much richness in this poverty!
How much richness
How much richness in this poverty!
O nature, it is here
That you have made her so beautiful!
It is here that this child
Slept under your wing,
Grew up under your eyes.
Here that your breath
Enveloping her soul,
You made, with love, the woman blossom
Into this angel from heaven!
It’s here! Yes, it is here!
I greet you, home chaste and pure,
I greet you, home chaste and pure,
Where one senses the presence
Of an innocent and divine soul!
I greet you, home chaste and pure, etc.

Che gelida manina

Che gelida manina,
se la lasci riscaldar.
Cercar che giova?

Al buio non si trova.

Ma per fortuna
é una notte di luna,
e qui la luna
l’abbiamo vicina.
Aspetti, signorina,
le dirò con due parole
chi son, e che faccio,
come vivo.
Chi son? Sono un poeta.
Che cosa faccio? Scrivo.
E come vivo? Vivo.
In povertà mia lieta
scialo da gran signore
rime ed inni damore.
Per sogni e per chimere
e per castelli in aria,
l’anima ho milionaria.
Talor dal mio forziere
ruban tutti i gioelli
due ladri, gli occhi belli.
Ventrar con voi pur ora,
ed i miei sogni usati
e i bei sogni miei,
tosto si dileguar!
Ma il furto non maccora,
poiché, poiché v’ha preso stanza
la speranza!
Or che mi conscete,
parlate voi, deh! Parlate. Chi siete?
Vi piaccia dir!

What a frozen little hand,

What a frozen little hand,
let me warm it for you.
What’s the use of looking?

We won’t find it in the dark.

But luckily
it’s a moonlit night,
and the moon
is near us here.
Wait, miss,
I will tell you in two words,
who I am, what I do,
and how I live.
May I?
Who am I? I am a poet.
What do I do? I write.
And how do I live? I live.

In my carefree poverty
I squander rhymes
and love songs like a lord.
When it comes to dreams and visions
and castles in the air,
I’ve the soul of a millionaire.
From time to time two thieves
steal all the jewels
out of my safe, two pretty eyes.
They came in with you just now,
and my customary dreams
my lovely dreams,
melted at once into thin air!
But the theft doesn’t anger me,
for their place has been
taken by hope!
Now that you know all about me,
tell me who you are.
Please do!

La Bohème, o soave fanciulla, with Renata Tebaldi


O soave fanciulla, o dolce viso,
di mite circonfuso alba lunar,
in te ravviso il sogno
ch’io vorrei sempre sognar!

(Ah, tu sol comandi, amor!… )

Fremon già nell’anima
le dolcezze estreme.

(Tu sol comandi, amore!)

Fremon nell’anima
dolcezze estreme, ecc.
Nel bacio freme amor!

(Oh! come dolci scendono
le sue lusinghe al core…
Tu sol comandi, amor!)
(Rodolfo la bacia.)
No, per pietà!

Sei mia!

V’aspettan gli amici…

Già mi mandi via?

Vorrei dir…ma non oso.


Se venissi con voi?

Che? Mimì!
Sarebbe così dolce restar qui.
C’è freddo fuori.

Vi starò vicina!

E al ritorno?


Dammi il braccio, o mia piccina…

Obbedisco, signor!

Che m’ami . . Di’ . . .

Io t’amo.

(mentre escono)
Amor! Amor! Amor!


Oh! lovely girl! Oh, sweet face
bathed in the soft moonlight.
I see in you the dream
I’d dream forever!

(Ah! Love, you rule alone!…)

Already I taste in spirit
the heights of tenderness!

(You rule alone, o Love!)

Already I taste in spirit
the heights of tenderness!
Love trembles in our kiss!

(How sweet his praises
enter my heart…
Love, you alone rule!)
(Rodolfo kisses her.)
No, please!

You’re mine!

Your friends are waiting.

You send me away already?

I daren’t say what I’d like…

Tell me.

If I came with you?

What? Mimì!
It would be so fine to stay here.
Outside it’s cold.

I’d be near you!

And when we come back?

Who knows?

Give me your arm, my dear…

I obey, sir…

Tell me you love me!

I love you.

(as they go out)
Beloved! My love! My love!

Jussi Björling

Björling’s father was a blacksmith at first, and then he decided to learn to sing, studying as a tenor at the Met Opera School in New York and afterwards at the Music Conservatory in Vienna. He became a singing teacher and the proof of his educational success is to be found in his four sons. With three of them he founded the “Björling Male Quartet” with which he made tours in Sweden and also in the USA (1919 to 1921). Jussi’s mother died in 1917, father, David, in 1926. The first of the brothers to make a career in music was Jussi. After studies at the Stockholm Music Conservatory, he made his debut as the Lamp-lighter in Manon Lescaut. One month later, he appeared as Don Ottavio. The reception to this was positive, if not sensational, and following his next appearance his singing was widely praised, although he was criticized for his acting. By that time, Jussi had already made his first broadcast (1928) and his first gramophone recording as a tenor at 18 years of age. Most of Björling’s many recordings during 1930s and 1940s were made with conductor Nils Grevillius for Skandinaviska Grammophon AB (the Swedish HMV affiliate). At home in Sweden, Jussi had signed his first permanent contract with the Royal Opera in 1931 and spent his next years concentrating on learning a large number of major and minor roles in a broad repertoire (all sung in Swedish). In 1935, he married soprano Anna-Lisa Berg. In 1937, he appeared for the first time in England. In the same year, he visited the United States to give multiple concerts, including three at Carnegie Hall. He sang in Rigoletto and Bohème, both in Italian for the first time, and he returned to Sweden and brought with him a Met contract. He gave up his contract with Covent Garden and started a 15-season-long-association (121 performances) with the Met. During World War II, he returned to Sweden and appeared at concerts in Denmark, Finland, Germany and Hungary. In 1943 he made his Italian debut as Manrico in Florence. In 1944 he was appointed singer to the “Swedish Royal Court.” In 1945 he started his longest American tour, beginning in October and finishing in May of the following year. In America, he was a popular guest on several well-known radio programs. In 1950 the Met’s new manager Rudolf Bing put on Verdi’s Don Carlo. This role was Björling’s last new stage role. He was very much in demand by this time, not only by his company but also by the public. During 1959 a series of minor heart attacks were reminders of the growing illness which was shortly to prove fatal. At the end of November and December Jussi Björling was back at the Met for the last time.

During the night of September 9, while he slept at his summer house on Siarö, he suffered a heart attack, and he died at the age of 49.