Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Jussi Bjorling: Failing Heart, Triumphant Singing Voice

The Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling enjoyed a status as king of the singing world until his untimely death at the age of forty-nine in the year 1960. He graced the stages of the Met and Carnegie Hall in the United States as well as the great opera halls throughout Europe and the rest of the world with his beautiful Bel Canto singing voice. He left behind a great legacy of his art, readily available in all leading music stores throughout the world, both audio and video recordings.

What many people didn’t realize about Bjorling when they hear him sing, however, is that he suffered from a deadly heart condition. Whenever he had a heart attack he was placed on a medication that was designed to broaden the arteries of his heart to allow the blood to flow more freely. Over the years of taking this medication his heart became increasingly enlarged until his early death in September 1960.

At that moment in time just before his death Jussi Bjorling was the greatest singer alive. During the last year of his life Bjorling’s voice was becoming more and more dramatic. He was starting to take on more of the dramatic roles in opera. This was due to the maturity of his mind and the depth of his spirit. It had absolutely nothing to do with any degree of physical strength. His body was growing weaker and weaker while his singing voice was becoming stronger and stronger.

Bjorling’s last recital was on August 20, 1960 in Stockholm, Sweden, less than three weeks before he died. It was a truly spectacular performance. Recordings of it are still available today. I encourage you to go out and buy a copy and have a listen for yourself. You won’t be able to tell that you are hearing a man whose heart is failing. You will only hear a triumphant and majestic singer.

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