In Birgit Nilsson’s centenary year, fellow Swede Nina Stemme has been announced as the recipient of the prestigious 2018 Birgit Nilsson Prize. A $1 million gift, it is the richest award in both classical music and opera, with the Prize established on a significant endowment left by the legendary Nilsson upon her death in 2005.

Birgit Nilsson and Nina Stemme, 1996. Photo © Birgit Nilsson Foundation

One of today’s most sought-after dramatic sopranos and long recognised as this generation’s Nilsson, Stemme said she was deeply honoured to be receiving the Prize. “It is a great honour to be recognized for my work, but it is even greater to be recognized in my home country by a world-renowned organization that bears the name and carries the legacy of a legend… my idol Birgit Nilsson. As this is her centenary, receiving this award becomes a most humbling and extraordinary honour. I am very grateful to be connected with this great lady and to be in the company of Maestro Domingo, Maestro Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic, all of whom have previously received this extraordinary award.”

The Prize is bestowed every two to three years to an active singer, conductor or institution that has made a major contribution to the fields of opera or concert performance. The recipient is determined by an international panel of industry professionals from those countries that Nilsson frequently performed in. The soprano personally selected the inaugural recipient of the prize, Plácido Domingo, who received the honour in 2009.

Critic Rupert Christiansen, who was one of this year’s jury members, gave his rationale for Stemme’s win in an article for The Telegraph. “On account of superb artistry, grounded in a grandly scaled soprano voice that can scale the fearsome heights of the most physically demanding music that Wagner or Richard Strauss put to paper… Stemme’s magnificent technique is also informed by a rare intelligence and sensibility – she is the most thoughtful and serious of prima donnas, uninterested in vulgar stunts and highly respected in the business over a career spanning three decades.”

Stemme will be formally presented with the Prize by King Carl XVI Gustaf this October at a ceremony held at the Royal Opera House in Sweden.