Hommage to Jussi Bjorling.
A quick meeting with Swedish opera singer Oskar Bly, in New York to perform in "La bohéme" and to give concerts, one of them today's hommage to Jussi Bjorling.
Swedish opera singer Oskar Bly doesn’t have much time. Our interview has to be conducted running to catch a cross town bus and then continue it on the bus and finalize it over a quick lunch at a deli on the Upper East Side, before Bly throws himself into a cab headed to a Broadway rehearsal of Puccini’s “La bohème”, in which Bly sings the part of the poet Rodolfo. “La bohème” premieres on November 4, but that’s not what I’m talking to Bly about. We are focusing on his upcoming concert “Hommage à Jussi” at the Swedish Church on October 19, honoring Jussi Björling. The year 2011 marks the hundredth anniversary of the great Swedish tenor’s birth (Björling was born in 1911 and died in 1960).
“I didn’t grow up listening to Björling,” says Bly, who was originally trained as an actor and who didn’t start singing opera until he was 31 - three years ago. “But now I listen to him a lot and he’s the greatest singer there is.”
Why is that?
“Because he had a superb technique and because he also sang with his pa-dam, you know.” Bly beats his chest, indicating the heart.
He explains he’s more of a dramatic singer than Björling and that covering Björling’s Mozart repertory for the Swedish Church concert wouldn’t be doable.
Sverige, Land du Välsignade
“I’m doing his Swedish and Italian repertoires instead. ‘Sverige’, “Land du välsignade,’ ‘Aftonstämning’ and pieces from ‘La bohème’, ‘Turandot’, and ‘Tosca’. The things people expect.”
Apart from Björling, Bly also likes Caruso and Callas. Like Björling, they too had passion and an emotional connection.
“But I also admire young, unknown singers. They have to really sing well and use a kind of nobility in order to be heard. Unlike the established stars.”
Bly only goes to hear opera if he knows it’s good – “otherwise I’ll mimic the bad technique” – and he never goes to see straight plays or musicals.
“They’re not my thing anymore, you know, so why see them? I’ve decided to do opera now, it’s a decision I’ve made, and if something doesn’t add to that goal, then it will distract, so I won’t do it.”
I wonder if he has any tricks to keep his voice in good shape, but he shakes his head, no. And what if he gets a cold?
“Then I cancel. If I’m not in perfect health I won’t sing. But,” he adds and leans in, “I’m almost never sick. I’m not a weak person. And a lot of that is mental, you know. Gargling the throat, drinking tea… I don’t believe in it.”
And then he disappears in one of New York’s many yellow cabs down to Broadway and another rehearsal of “La bohème”.
For more information about the concert at the Swedish Church:
Svenska Kyrkan New York
If you miss this opportunity to hear Björling's music, the Jussi Björling Society-USA sponsors a concert on Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. at the Gustavus Adolphus Church, 155 E. 22nd Street, New York, NY. Tickets available at: Eventbrite.com
(Tickets are $35, $45.)