Award Ceremony 2009 - The Birgit Nilsson Prize

The legendary Swedish dramatic soprano Birgit Nilsson established a foundation for a prize to be awarded for outstanding achievement in opera and concert.

Birgit Nilsson

Award Ceremony 2009

Award Ceremony

The Birgit Nilsson Prize Award Ceremony 2009

king-placido-domingo [lead]The first Award Ceremony of the Birgit Nilsson Prize. Birgit Nilsson herself appointed Plácido Domingo as first recipient. From now on a panel will identify the next recipient.[/lead] On the very stage where Birgit Nilsson made her debut, H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf presented the first Birgit Nilsson Prize to star tenor, conductor and opera house director Plácido Domingo. With a one million dollar award, it is the most generous prize in the world of classical music. "The Prize money will greatly benefit my annual competition Operalia," said a visibly moved Plácido Domingo. In an emotional speech, he said it was "unbelievable" to be standing on the stage where Nilsson had performed so many times, calling her "one of the greatest artists, if not the greatest."

An evening to honour Nilsson

Plácido Domingo paid tribute to the primadonna assoluta in his acceptance speech, and the evening's praise of Nilsson extended to include her fearsome business sense that so impressed opera house directors and the humour, kindness and modesty that made her such a beloved friend. In his tribute, Hans-Peter Lehmann, Director and former Artistic Director of the Hanover State Opera, described her singing as a force of nature: "This was where art and nature reached their pinnacle. Time, space, reality – they all simply melted away." In her speech honouring the Prize winner, Royal Swedish Opera Artistic Director Birgitta Svendén recalled how much the two great artists had in common. Although they shared the stage in only three productions, they shared a lifelong mutual admiration: "They were artistic soul mates."

Glittering gala dinner

The award ceremony was accompanied by music from Nina Stemme, who was supported by Birgit Nilsson and Plácido Domingo as a young artist, and from the Royal Swedish Orchestra conducted by Gregor Bühl. Following the ceremony, guests were invited to Stockholm City Hall to dine in the presence of Their Majesties. The menu featured venison from Södermanland, a region south of Stockholm. Guests included Swedish Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, violinist Julian Rachlin and Eva Wagner-Pasquier, Director of the Bayreuth Festival.

An auspicious beginning

Professor Rutbert Reisch, President of the Birgit Nilsson Foundation, which organised the event, was happy that the evening's celebration was a great success. "Expectations have been set high for future award ceremonies." The location and date of the next presentation have not yet been determined, but the Prize will be awarded every second or third year for outstanding achievement in opera or concert by a singer or a conductor, or to a specific opera production. Birgit Nilsson selected the first winner herself before her death. "We will now appoint an international panel to name the next Prize winner," Professor Reisch added.

Award Ceremony 2009 Video

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The Royal Swedish Opera - venue of the Birgit Nilsson Prize Award Ceremonies 2009, 2011 and 2018

royal-swedish-opera The Kungliga Operan or Royal Swedish Opera is the venue of the Birgit Nilsson Prize Award Ceremonies. Birgit Nilsson made her first appearance at the Royal Opera on 9 October 1946 in the role of Agathe in Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz. She made her breakthrough as Lady Macbeth the following year. For a decade Birgit Nilsson was a permanent member of the Royal Opera. Until 1981, she regularly performed at the opera house as a guest singer. The Royal Swedish Opera is the national stage for opera in Sweden. Over the years, it has sent many outstanding opera singers out into the world. Jenny Lind, Christina Nilsson, Jussi Björling and Birgit Nilsson are but a few of the legendary Swedish singers who once made their debut at the Royal Opera. And the tradition continues with singers like Nina Stemme, Katarina Dalayman, Peter Mattei and many more besides. The Royal Opera lies in the centre of Stockholm, opposite the Royal Palace. It was designed by Axel Johan Anderberg and was finished 1899. It is a majestic neo-classical building with a magnificent gold foyer and an elegant, grand marble staircase leading to a three-tiered auditorium. It presently seats 1,200 guests. Today the Royal Opera employs some 600 people on a permanent basis. Its orchestra, The Royal Opera Orchestra, counts 112 members and is Scandinavia's largest orchestra, as well as one of the oldest in the world, having originated in the 16th century. Birgitta Svendén has been the General Director of the Royal Swedish Opera since 2010. More information at


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