Opera's Birgit Nilsson dies at age 87

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) -- Birgit Nilsson, the farmer's daughter who became renowned in the world's great opera houses for her dazzling voice and among colleagues for her playful sense of humor, has died at age 87.
She died Christmas Day, the Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet reported.
As word spread of her death two decades after she retired, the Swedish singer was remembered as one of the world's top Wagnerian sopranos.
"With Birgit Nilsson's passing, Sweden has lost one of its greatest artists," King Carl XVI Gustaf said in a rare statement.
"She was one of the greatest singers of the 20th century," said Menno Feenstra, artistic director at Stockholm's Royal Opera, who developed a close friendship with Nilsson after her retirement.
Solid skills
Feenstra called her vocal skills "so solid and so 100 percent that you can hardly find a singer nowadays that has a technique like that."
A funeral was Wednesday at a church in her native town Vastra Karup in southern Sweden, with only her closest relatives attending, said Fredrik Westerlund, the church's vicar. He did not know when she died or the cause of death, but Nilsson was said to have had heart trouble in recent years.
Born on a farm, Nilsson reigned supreme at the world's opera houses during her career, which began in 1946 at the Stockholm Royal Opera as Agathe in Weber's "Der Freischutz" and continued until 1982.
She sang a wide variety of dramatic roles, but her reputation was based especially on her mastery of the most punishing in the repertory. Chief among these was Isolde in Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," which she sang for her sensational debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera on Dec. 18, 1959.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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