Jussi of the Month May 2018
In May 1935, there was a festival atmosphere in Stockholm, since the wedding between Princess Ingrid of Sweden and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark would soon take place. On the first day of the month, Jussi made his first contribution to the royal frenzy with a special wedding record, carrying the portraits of the royal couple on the label.
The two tunes were Bröllopsvalsen (The Wedding Waltz) by the Dane Michael Christgau and Lilla prinsessa (Little Princess) by Georg Enders, born in Bohemia in 1898 but living in Sweden since 1921 and active as pianist, conductor and composer. The conductor was Sune Waldimir, as he had been in 1933 for four popular tunes with Jussi (two of them as "Erik Odde") and would be in 1944 for two special wartime songs, and in 1953 for the movie Resan till Dej (The Journey to You). Waldimir, whose actual name was Sune Engström, was in 1935 working as announcer and head of the gramophone department at the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, where he would later become conductor of Underhållningsorkestern (The Entertainment Orchestra).
One side of HMV X 4449
Other side of HMV X 4449
Sunday May 12, Jussi was announced to sing at the "Red Cross Exhibition Days" at Skansen in Stockholm, but had to be replaced by his baritone friend Einar Larson, who included on his program two songs from Jussi's repertoire, Körling's Aftonstämning och Eklöfs Morgon.
Jussi and Einer Larson at the artists’ entrance to the Opera 1934
When John Forsell was manager of the Royal Opera in Stockholm, the company undertook several tours to neighboring countries. Jussi took part in those in 1931 to Helsinki (his first performances abroad as a tenor), in 1933 to Copenhagen and in 1934 to Oslo. The fourth and last tour of this kind for him was one in May of 1935 which went to Riga in Latvia. On the morning of Tuesday the 14th, the whole opera company, in all about 200 people, entered the steamer Kastelholm destined for Riga. During the following days, the opera house was used by a Swiss ballet ensemble.
Leaving for Riga. The third person from the left waving farewell is probably Jussi.
The opening performance in Riga, Don Giovanni on May 16, was of course solemn with the president and the prime minister in the audience. John Forsell in the title role got most acclaim, as expected, but Jussi was also given credit for both singing and acting. He didn't take part in Friday's performance of Les contes d'Hoffmann and had only a small role in I Cavalieri di Ekebù the following day. On Sunday May 19, there was first a matinee performance of two ballets, and in the evening a concluding performance of Atterberg's Fanal with Jussi as Martin Skarp. The program shown here demonstrates the Latvian habit of re-writing names according to their own language rules.
The Fanal program
A Riga newspaper in German included among the things which were particularly pleasing "Jussi Björling's powerful tenor, which is pleasing in the middle register in an almost baritonal way, but which is especially expressively shining on the top notes." The successful Swedish opera visit was ended with all participants on stage, laurels and national anthems. "Cheering people were besieging all stage entrances, the triumph was complete," as a Stockholm newspaper wrote. In a ceremony after the performances, some of the participants were given a Latvian order, but Jussi was not among them since he was regarded as too young. This annoyed him so much that according to Anna-Lisa's father, who attended as a member of the Royal Orchestra, Jussi stood up and delivered in protest the famous aria from La fille du régiment with its nine high C's. However, he became knight of the Latvian Order of Three Stars three years later. The opera company returned Tuesday morning to Stockholm after the five performances and John Forsell was enthusiastic; he "had seldom met such natural and sincere heartiness."
The temperature in Stockholm had now risen still more before the royal wedding on May 24. The gala performance at the opera house on Thursday the 23rd was the highpoint so far, according to a newspaper "for splendor and magnificence surely one of the most remarkable ever given in Sweden's capital." In act II of Roméo and Juliette, Jussi sang opposite Helga Görlin; only next year, he would sing the role for the first time opposite Hjördis Schymberg. This was followed by scenes from Prince Igor and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It was a worthy prelude to Friday's wedding, when about a quarter million people were estimated to have been in the streets. At that point, ten days remained to Jussi's own wedding.
The cover of and a page from the program for the opera gala:
Following King Gustaf V, second in the first row at the opera gala, are seated Queen Astrid of Belgium, King Christian of Denmark, the wedding couple, Queen Alexandrine of Denmark and King Leopold of Belgium.