Artist Profile: Tenor Jussi Björling, The ‘Swedish Caruso’

By David Salazar

Jussi Björling was one of the greatest tenors of the 20th century.

Born on Feb. 5, 1911 in Sweden, first started learning to sing from his father, who also taught his two brothers. The family often engaged in performances as the Björling Male Quartet and the tenor made his debut public appearance at age five. The group would perform actively in Sweden and the U.S. for over 11 years.

The tenor would make his professional opera debut in 1930 in Stockholm and soon after he was taking on leading roles at his home house. From there he went to the rest of Europe and the U.S., making his Carnegie Hall debut in 1937. In 1938, he made his debut at the Met Opera, starting a lengthy association with the company that would last through the 1940s and 1950s.

He would continue performing around the world, though his celebrity grew to the point that he was appearing on NBC, making recordings with Robert Merrill and being recognized as the “Swedish Caruso.”

On March 15, 1960, he suffered a heart attack during a performance in London. He would die six months later from an enlarged heart at the age of 49.

He left behind a plethora of beloved recordings and a number of organizations and institutions in his home country were created in his honor. He was a Grammy winner in 1990 and ranked as greatest singer of the century by Classic CD’s “Top Singers of the Century Critics Poll” in 1999.

Signature Roles

Björling truly had a varied repertory that traversed the French lyric repertory to the verismo operas of Leoncavallo and Mascagni. But the composers that likely defined his career were Verdi and Puccini.

“La Bohème” is an opera he performed extensively and made many major debuts with. His recording with Victoria de Los Angeles under Sir Thomas Beecham is widely considered the finest of the opera.

But he also performed and recorded a number of operas by Giuseppe Verdi; he was Toscanini’s choice for performances of Verdi’s Requiem, which they also recorded together.

Read More on Björling

A Look At His Met Career

Watch and Listen

Here are six hours worth of music from the tenor.


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