She made her actual debut in New York, sang with Jussi Björling and was with the Swedish Royal Opera for more than 25 years.
Nordstjernan, issue 12/99, March, 1999 Today, she runs the world's oldest rococo Theater – "Konfidensen" in Stockholm — and is presently involved in new opera productions in Sweden for the first time in five years. And she crossed the finish line in the famous cross-country ski event Vasaloppet two weeks ago.
Legendary Swedish soprano Kjerstin Dellert made time recently to stop over in New York to attend colleague and friend Elisabeth Södertröm's performance at the Metropolitan Opera. She also presented a much-praised performance of her own for the SWEA New York chapter at the Swedish Church in Manhattan. Always a celebrity in Sweden, she claims to have no special fondness for New York. "While you're active here, the city returns so much energy. If you are not involved, not working, the city just makes me tired."
Dellert made her actual stage debut in New York after winning the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Program in 1949, beating out such later successful Broadway actors as Mel Tormé and George Scheering. Her stint on the New York entertainment scene brought her her first mink fur coat (which she bought at the first available opportunity) but the Broadway life never appealed to her. "To get the really big parts you had to sleep around with producers and directors, something I was not so inclined to do," she explains.
She returned to Sweden in 1950, performed in "Sköna Helena" in 1951 and was swiftly hired by the Royal Stockholm Opera. Dellert has always made headlines in her home country. Her marriage to her present husband, 17 years her junior, 30 years ago, was the topic of much discussion in Sweden and just a few years before her retirement from the Opera. She "discovered" the Konfidensen – the Ulriksdals Slottsteater theater stage – a few years later in 1979. It is a theater she has rebuilt entirely with her usual stamina and, since 1980, with the help of then-unheard of cultural sponsors.
She is currently working on her memoirs in cooperation with an old journalist friend who transcribes her audio tapes on his computer. Or rather, as she puts it, "I am not really writing my memoirs. Memoirs are so self-conscious and not really good literature are they? I don't feel I am writing about myself; I am writing the ‘Kjerstin Dellert story’."
At the center of that story is her marriage. "The best thing I ever did? Marrying the right man, which gives me the right balance in life," she says. The couple resides on a small farm half an hour north of Stockholm. "This is where I recharge my batteries and prepare for the bustle of the city, listen to my favorite 'music,' the sounds of the wind in the trees, and the birds and the cats mating in the night. This is where I put on my heavy boots and walk out to the barn to clean up."
On the other hand, New York's size offers advantages as well. "One thing I can appreciate with New York is the anonymity I can enjoy here," she notes. "Sweden, particularly Stockholm, has changed so much in recent years. Too small to be big and too big to be small."
She has never been shy about voicing her opinions: "I am not comfortable with Sweden's new upper class - the politicians, in Sweden so ignorant of real life and outright incompetent. And yet I always return. I return home and I do it simply because it is just that, Home. I have Sweden's earth between my toes, my father came form Dalarna and it is mind-boggling to visit and meet with "tremänningar" - second cousins I have never met before. This is what home is. More a feeling of belonging and a state of mind than anything else."
Kjerstin Dellert turns 73 years old this year, but she does not come across as a retiree, in either attitude or appearance. "I am at the point in life where I almost feel that my days left are very limited," she claims, however.
Maybe this is why, in what became a major media event, she skied the final nine kilometers of the Vasaloppet – her first stint on skis since 1950. "It was an enormous feeling, going from Eldris to Mora, to pass the finish line with the thousands of cheering onlookers," she says. Or why, on top of her regular Konfidensen schedule, she will appear in 65 performances in 1999...
Written by Ulf Mårtensson for Nordstjernan, March 1999
Kjerstin Dellert photographed for Nordstjernan at a private residence in New York, 1999. Photo: Ulf Barslund Martensson