Birgit Nilsson Prize given to Nina Stemme

Martin Cullingford Tue 15th May 2018

$1m award given to soprano who describes Nilsson as her ‘idol’ and source of inspiration

Birgit Nilsson Prize given to Nina Stemme: the two sopranos together in 1996

Birgit Nilsson Prize given to Nina Stemme: the two sopranos together in 1996

Swedish soprano Nina Stemme has been awarded the Birgit Nilsson Prize, a $1m gift awarded every three years from a foundation left by the iconic 20th century opera star. 

To honour Stemme with Nilsson’s legacy feels somewhat appropriate: in the current issue of Gramophone, in our cover story devoted to marking Nilsson’s centenary, Mike Ashman describes Stemme, one of today's most celebrated Wagner singers, as ‘successor to Nilsson today in many of her leading roles’, while Stemme herself describes Nilsson as her ‘idol’.

The Birgit Nilsson Prize is classical music’s largest monetary award, and Nilsson’s instructions were that it should be given to a world-leading artist or organization currently performing. The recipient, says the Foundation, should have ‘added a chapter to music history and their contributions can be expected to stand the test of time’.

‘It is a great honour to be recognized for my work,’ said Stemme, ‘but it is even greater to be recognized in my home country by a world-renowned organization that bears the name and carries the legacy of a legend … my idol Birgit Nilsson. As this is her centenary, receiving this award becomes a most humbling and extraordinary honour.’

In an interview for our cover story, Stemme recalled her contact with Nilsson during the early stages of her career. ‘Nilsson’, she said, ‘always saw young singers as colleagues, was keen on integrity and was very positive and encouraging. She was intelligent and witty and funny, and warm and suggestive if she thought you were insecure.’ 

Reflecting on Nilsson’s recordings, Stemme added that she felt she was ‘quite modern and very good with the text – and you have to know it well to make the non-verbal emotions clear.’ She continues to feel that Nilsson is inspiring her ‘in the background with her immense power and persona’.

Stemme is the fourth recipient of the Prize: the first, chosen by Nilsson herself, was Plácido Domingo; he was followed by Riccardo Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic. The Prize Award Ceremony will take place on October 11 at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm, Sweden, and be presented by King Carl XVI Gustaf. 

It was also announced that in January the Birgit Nilsson Foundation will be transferred to the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in Stockholm. 

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