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August 5, 2022

Christina Nilsson: One of the Victorian Era’s Most Famous Divas

Born 1843 in a forester’s hut at Sjöabol (or Snugge) farm near Växjö, Småland, Swedish operatic soprano Christina Nilsson gave her professional debut in concerts in Stockholm and Uppsala, receiving mixed reviews in 1860.

Possessed of a pure and brilliant voice of first three then two and a half octaves trained in the bel canto technique, and noted for her graceful appearance and stage presence, Nilsson enjoyed a twenty-year career as a top-rank international singer before her 1888 retirement.

A contemporary of one of the Victorian era’s most famous divas, Adelina Patti, the two were often compared by reviewers and audiences, and were sometimes believed to be rivals. Nilsson became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1869. She is a minor character in The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, and mentioned in Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

Nilsson is widely believed to have been the inspiration for Christine Daaé, the heroine of Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera. Towards the end of his life, Leroux claimed the character was based on a real opera singer “whose real name I hid under that of Christine Daaé”, and details of Nilsson’s early life heavily reflect details in the fictitious Christine Daaé’s history, even to the point of using ideas and language from contemporary reviews of Nilsson’s performances in Faust in 1869.

Nilsson died in Växjö in 1921 at the age of 78. Take a look at these beautiful photos to see portraits of a young Christina Nilsson.


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