BackgroundWelcome to the Jussi Björling Museum in Borlänge! The museum opened on 22 October 1994 in conjunction with the international Jussi Björling Tenor Competition. It is located a few hundred metres from the place, on Magasinsgatan Street, where Jussi Björling was born in 1911. That house, which no longer exists, stood between the large Trafikverket (Traffic Administration) building and the first residential blocks in Jussi Björlings väg (Jussi Björling Road) on the other side of the railway tracks. A signpost now marks the site.
Other Björling memories in Borlänge
Leaving the museum, turn right and proceed to the left along Borganäsvägen Street.
You will soon reach Jussi Björlings torg (Jussi Björling Square) with a Björling statue by Willy Gordon, which is also displayed in miniature on the museum staircase. Jussi Björling is buried in the Stora Tuna churchyard, a few kilometres outside Borlänge; the route to his grave is described on a sheet available at the reception desk.
The objects and documents in the museum have been gathered from many sources, but a large part of them have been deposited by Jussi Björling's family, the Jussi Björlinggården Foundation (which managed an earlier, small Björling museum as part of the local open-air museum Tunabygdens Gammelgård), and the Royal Opera in Stockholm.
In front of the museum, a bust of Jussi Björling was placed in September 1996. Replicas of this bust are also found at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
The entrance hall
At the reception in the entrance hall, you can purchase Björling CD records and DVDs in a
comprehensive selection, books, postcards, T-shirts, posters, photographs and other souvenirs. On the right of the entrance to the main exhibit is a youthful portrait of the singer. In the exhibit on the ground floor, you will first see a costume which Jussi Björling wore in Roméo et Juliette, one of his favourite operas in Stockholm. From the same opera, a stage model and a stage design are also on display, and Roméo's cavatina is one of the tunes heard on the loudspeakers.
The exhibition beginsThe exhibit is not chronologically arranged, but this guide continues to the left, where you can study a genealogical table (going back to the 15th century) before passing through the door. Behind the door, there are pictures and objects from Björling's childhood. Those who choose to pass through the curtain on the right will enter the section devoted to Björling as an opera singer.
According to the midwife's appointment-book, which is copied in the photo album, Jussi (actually christened Johan Jonatan) Björling was born in Borlänge on 5 February 1911. A picture of the house where he was born is found in the album, and so is a copy of the parish register, which instead shows him as born on 2 February - the day Björling himself regarded as his birthday. His parents were David Björling (1873-1926) and his wife Ester (1882-1917).
David, shown in the large portrait, was born in Hälsingland, a province north of Dalarna, but he had lived for several years with his family in Finland (his mother was Finnish) before he returned to Sweden at the age of twenty. After working for a few years as a tool-maker, he went on to the United States, where he learnt singing at the Metropolitan Opera School in New York. After further studies in Vienna, he was active in Sweden mainly as a concert singer and singing teacher. In 1909, David Björling married Ester Sund from Stora Tuna, where the family settled. The couple had four musically gifted children: Olle (1909-1965), Jussi, Gösta (1912-1957), and Karl (1917-1975). When Jussi was born, the family still lived at Norr Romme in Stora Tuna, but David was on tour and Ester preferred to stay with relatives in Borlänge. The following year, the family moved to the house where he had been born.
David Björling began to teach his children singing at a very early age, and Jussi appeared in public together with his two brothers Olle and Gösta before he was five. In the photo album, there are several photographs of the singing brothers at various ages. The last picture shows Jussi with his first son Rolf (1928-1993), who also became an opera singer. Close to the album, there are programs from the boys' recitals - both in Sweden and in the USA, where David toured with them in 1919-1921. (Ester had died in 1917, shortly after Karl's birth.) One of the mementos from this period is a folk costume used by the Björling boys, another a kettle used on the quartet's tours. David Björling died in 1926, and the ensemble dissolved in the next year. After a short stay in South Sweden, Jussi came to Stockholm and in 1928 began his education as an opera singer, illustrated in another part of the exhibition.
The private Jussi
A little further in the exhibit, a poster announces the terminal event in Jussi Björling's life, the fatal heart attack on 9 September 1960 at his summer home on Siarö in the Stockholm archipelago. It is surrounded by pictures from the funeral ceremony at the Engelbrekt Church in Stockholm, and the interment ceremony at Stora Tuna. Two unfulfilled contracts are sad reminders that Jussi Björling's career was interrupted while the singer was still at the height of his powers: one for his last Metropolitan season, the other for a Swedish TV recording planned to take place in late September 1960.
The following left wall is mainly devoted to Jussi Björling as a private person. First, there is a photo album containing pictures of more or less personal character, e.g., family events like his wedding to Anna-Lisa Berg in 1935 and summer pictures from the family's homes at Vettershaga and Siarö. Photographs of Jussi Björling off-stage with colleagues and friends like Joseph Hislop, Kerstin Thorborg, Beniamino Gigli, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Lauritz Melchior, and Robert Merrill are also found here. Besides Björling's wife Anna-Lisa, their children Anders (b. 1936), Lars (b. 1939) and Ann-Charlotte (b. 1943) appear in many photographs here and elsewhere in the museum. Lars and Ann-Charlotte both pursued singing careers. In an exhibit case, letters are shown which Jussi Björling wrote home to his family from his American tours. He loved the life in the Stockholm archipelago, and a large photograph shows the relaxed singer on his way "towards the sea" (Till havs). His fishing equipment, largest pike trophy and leisure jacket are also on display.
Honours and distinctions
On and near the short wall, Jussi Björling's fame is demonstrated in his many honours and distinctions. On display are decorations, medals, plaques, citations, and diplomas.The latter show, for example, his appointm
ents as honorary citizen of two American states, as honorary doctor and honorary professor of music, as Royal Swedish Court Singer and as a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. The funny caricature by Uno Stallarholm, on the picture to the left, was given to Jussi in gratitude for his services to the charity organization Barnens Dag. One of his highest distinctions was no doubt the beautiful blue and gold costume which Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) wore as the Duke in Rigoletto; it was given to Jussi Björling by Caruso's widow in testimony that she regarded him to be her husband's worthy successor. A sound arrangement makes it possible to compare Caruso's and Björling's voices in the Duke's famous aria.
The movie actorThe movie actor Jussi Björling is represented by by two posters, a photo and a brochure from the only movie in which he took a leading part, Fram för framgång (Head for Success, 1937), and by a poster and a large photo from Resan till dej (The Journey to You, 1953), mounted before a microphone. In the Assembly Hall on the second floor, excerpts from the films can be viewed.
The radio singerA "Centrum" radio receiver of a type which Jussi Björling owned reminds of his on-the-air activities, and a poster for the same trademark is one of several examples of how his great popularity in Sweden was used for advertising purposes. The fact that Björling was one of the most popular radio voices both in Sweden and in the United States is confirmed by several certificates.
The concert singer
Jussi Björling as concert singer is represented by one of his tail-coats, and by photographs from his concert tours in various countries. There are enlargements of photographs taken at Stora Tuna Church and at Gröna Lund in Stockholm, the latter a place where he gave annual summer recitals to thousands of listeners. A small selection of recital programs are on display here; photocopies of the complete program collection are found in the Listening and Study Room on the second floor. One of Björling's worn suitcases, his briefcase for sheet music and his passports document his tours. Nearby is one of his first music books, as well as special issues of two of the songs in Jussi Björling's repertoire. "I bless every hour" is better known as "Tonerna". Opposite those objects you will find a poster for his first solo recitals as an opera singer, in Stora Tuna and Borlänge in 1931.From this point on, the exhibit documents Jussi Björling's career in opera. In the autumn of 1928, he began his education as an opera singer at the Conservatory of the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. His most important teacher there was the Royal Opera manager John Forsell (1868-1941), who also took care of the orphan boy in a more personal way. Forsell is represented both by a private portrait and by one in costume as Don Giovanni, the role he sang opposite Björling when the latter made his official opera debut on 20 August 1930. This debut is illustrated here by pictures, by a poster for the performance and by reviews in Jussi Björling's own scrapbook.
The opera singerJussi Björling sang the majority of the fifty-five opera and operetta roles in his repertoire only during the first decade of his career at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. (For a complete list of roles see the end of this guide.) On four pillars to the left, he is seen in roles from his early career which he later abandoned. Pictures depicting him in each major role he sang after 1939 are on display on the pillars that follow: The Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto), Mario Cavaradossi (Tosca), Radamès (Aida), Manrico (Il trovatore), Roméo (Roméo et Juliette), Turiddu (Cavalleria rusticana), Canio (Pagliacci), title role of Faust, Rodolfo (La bohème), Riccardo (Un ballo in maschera), title role of Don Carlo, and Des Grieux (Manon Lescaut). Costumes from five of these operas (Rigoletto, Trovatore, Roméo et Juliette, Faust, Bohème) are also on display, in addition to costumes from his early roles in Mignon, L'africaine, and the operetta Der Zigeunerbaron. Jussi Björling's soprano wife Anna-Lisa sang many times together with him, and a dress worn by her as Juliette in San Francisco opposite Jussi's Roméo is also found here. In addition to one of the Trovatore costumes, a painting from 1960 by Sven Erixson shows Björling on stage in the same costume. The exhibition case with a Faust costume also contains a piece of the stage of the old Metropolitan Opera House. The pictures on the pillars come from many different opera houses besides the Royal Opera House in Stockholm and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, where Björling appeared most frequently - e.g., from Vienna, Chicago, San Francisco, La Scala in Milan, and Covent Garden in London. Programs, posters and other material from various operas are also on display. Close to the exit, you can have a look at Jussi Björling's dressing-room at the Stockholm Opera through a slightly opened door. This room has been reconstructed with original furniture and Björling's make-up box according to a photograph on the wall which was taken in connection with a Manon Lescaut performance.
The staircase leading to the upper floor is dominated by Verner Molin's portrait of Jussi Björling. Also on display in the staircase are a portrait, once in Björling's possession, of Jenny Lind, the first Swedish singer of international
renown, and a poster from Jussi Björling's last public appearance outside Sweden, in Amsterdam 1960. On the walls in the upper hall you will find a copy of a painting of Björling as Roméo by Carl Gunne, Björling posters from America, two newspaper collages showing the tenor in caricatures and in advertisements for various trademarks, many autographed artist photographs, and rare colour photographs of Björling at the Met. In a corner stands a bust of the singer made by Elisa Tigerholm. Next to it another painting of Björling, here as Rodolfo. The large exhibit case standing on the floor contains copies of documents from Björling's childhood and youth and a book with musicians' autographs. The guestbook is placed on Björling's own desk from his Karlavägen apartment in Stockholm.
The large door from the upper hall leads into the Assembly Hall, decorated by Jussi Björling posters. Here the tenor can be heard and seen singing on video recordings from
American television (among them scenes in stage costume from Bohème, Rigoletto and Pagliacci) and in the Swedish film Fram för framgång (Head for Success). A giant poster from the premiere of that film in 1938 covers the rear wall. A complete reference collection of Jussi Björling's known recordings is preserved here. This collection comprises 38 complete and 16 more-or-less incomplete opera or oratorio performances, and more than 600 song, aria and duet recordings.
For example, the well-known Bohème aria exists in 20 different versions, recorded by Björling between 1936 and 1959. Beyond the glass doors, a constantly increasing collection of CD, video and DVD issues of Jussi Björling's recordings is found (620 issues as of June 2007). Issued or unissued recordings from this collection can be requested through the staff and played either here or in the adjacent Listening and Study Room. A contrast to the modern sound equipment is offered by Jussi Björling's own record cabinet and portable gramophone.
Listening and Study Room
In the Listening and Study Room beyond the lift, two listening stations with two seats each are available to
visitors. Each station contains a multi-CD player with 6 CDs, so that totally about 250 songs, arias, etc. sung by Jussi Björling can be played as chosen by the listener.
In the exhibit case on one of the short walls, some gramophone records of special interest are on display - for instance, one of the acoustical 78's which the Björling brothers made already in 1920; a record on which Jussi Björling sings dance music as "Erik Odde"; and a test record, signed and approved by him and the conductor Nils Grevillius. Björling's "Grammy" award for "Bjoerling in Opera" is shown in the case together with the LP. Behind the glass doors at the bottom of the case, the collection of Björling's 78 rpm and vinyl records and commercial tapes is housed.
More LP sleeves and photographs connected with Jussi Björling's many recordings are found in other places in the room. Norwegian gold and platinum CDs from 1996 on one of the walls demonstrate how well Björling's recordings continue to sell. Hugo Alfvén's song "Så tag mit hjerte" is also on display; the sheet music is dedicated to Jussi Björling and complemented by a letter from the composer where he asks the singer to record the song. In 1959, it became one of Björling's last recordings.
Jussi Björling's extensive tours in Sweden and the USA are illustrated by pin-filled maps on the short walls. The bookshelves contain, besides all books about him, more than 50 large binders with concert, opera and record reviews (about 4000 reviews in all), advertisements, newspaper reports, memorial articles and photocopies of programs. Materials in many languages referring to more than 2400 of Björling's public appearances is found here, beginning with his very first recital on 12 December 1915, with his father and brothers in an Örebro church, and ending with his last recital on 20 August 1960 at Skansen in Stockholm.