The Roles Birgit Nilsson & Zinka Milanov Shared & Fought Over

Birgit Nilsson & Zinka Milanov share more than a birthday.

Zinka Milanov was born on May 17, 1906. Exactly 12 years later, on May 17, 1918, Birgit Nilsson was born. The two women would go on to markedly different careers, though they both performed at the greatest houses in the world and would perform with many of the same artists, albeit in different operas.

Both women were dramatic sopranos, and while their repertoire diverged greatly, there were many points of convergence.

For starters, Milanov never tackled Wagner, the repertoire Nilsson is best remembered for, but she did study with Wagnerian soprano Milka Ternina in Croatia.


The greatest point of convergence between the two came in the form of Verdi. Milanov was a famed Verdi interpreter, singing all of the major dramatic roles and recording them.

And while Nilsson was not a famed Verdi soprano, she did sing many of the roles that made Milanov a star. Among them were “Aida,” “Un Ballo in Maschera,” and the famed “Requiem.”

“Aida” was actually a point of contention between the two women, as it had been Milanov’s territory at the Met since 1938. By the time Nilsson started singing the role at the Met in 1961, Milanov was no longer performing it with the company, though she had showcased her talents in the opera a whopping 75 times to that point. Regardless, she was upset that Nilsson had taken a role that was previously her territory. So after one of Nilsson’s performances of the famed role, Milanov decided to take off in the Rolls Royce the Scandinavian soprano had hired after the performance. She was later quoted as saying, “If Madame Nilsson takes my roles, I must take her Rolls.”

Other Roles

The two also shared one Puccini role, “Tosca,” and Donna Anna in “Don Giovanni.” Nilsson recorded the latter with Dietrich Fischer-Diseskau, Ezio Flagello, Martina Arroyo, and Reri Grist among others. Milanov performed the role 20 times at the Met throughout her career.

As for “Tosca,” Nilsson has a famous recording with Fisher-Dieskau and Franco Corelli while Milanov worked with Jussi Bjoerling and Leonard Warren on her recording. She also has a recording with Corelli and Gian Giacomo Guelfi.

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About the Author

David Salazar
Prior to creating OperaWire, DAVID SALAZAR, (Editor-in-Chief) worked as a reporter for Latin Post where he interviewed major opera stars including Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, Vittorio Grigolo, Diana Damrau and Rolando Villazon among others. His 2014 interview with opera star Kristine Opolais was cited in a New York Times Review. He also had the opportunity of interviewing numerous Oscar nominees, Golden Globe winners and film industry giants such as Guillermo del Toro, Oscar Isaac and John Leguizamo among others. David holds a Masters in Media Management from Fordham University. During his time at Fordham, he studied abroad at the Jagiellonian University in Poland. He also holds a dual bachelor’s from Hofstra University in Film Production and Journalism.

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