The Swedish operatic soprano Christina Nilsson was born in a forester’s hut near Växjö, Sweden, in 1843. In 1860, she made her professional debut in Stockholm and Uppsala to mixed reviews. Before retiring in 1888, Nilsson enjoyed a twenty-year career as a top-rank international singer with a pure and brilliant voice of three octaves and two and a half octaves trained in the bel canto style.
A contemporary of Adelina Patti, one of the most famous divas of the Victorian era, the two were often compared by reviewers and audiences and sometimes viewed as rivals. In 1869, Nilsson joined the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. 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 inspired Christine Daaé, the heroine of Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera. The character was based on a real opera singer “whose real name I hid under the name Christine Daaé” toward the end of Leroux’s life, and the fictitious Christine Daaé’s story heavily influences the details of Nilsson’s early life; even to the point of referencing contemporary reviews of Nilsson’s Faust performances in 1869.
Christina Nilsson sang the role of “Marguerite” in Faust at the inauguration of the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, on October 22, 1883. She then performed in several American and Canadian cities. Later that year, she sang at the White House for President Chester A. Arthur. In early June 1884, she made her final appearance in the United States. She began another tour of Scandinavia in August 1885. After her third Stockholm concert on September 23, she performed from the Grand Hotel’s balcony. An estimated 50,000 people attended the show to hear the world-famous soprano. A panic broke out, and many people died or were injured. She continued her tour in Scandinavia, Germany, Prague, and Vienna, including her first recital in Berlin (November 9 1885). Christina Nilsson married Don Angel Ramon Maria Vallejo y Miranda es, Count de Casa Miranda es (b.1832), a Spanish journalist and diplomat. The ceremony was held in the church of La Madeleine in Paris. Nilsson and Casa Miranda’s daughter Rosita had been in a relationship since 1882, and Rosita accompanied Nilsson on her 1882–1883 trip to the United States. Nilsson retired in 1888 after remarrying, marking the occasion with two farewell performances at the Royal Albert Hall, London. Nilsson settled in France and Spain and became the Countess de Casa Miranda.
In 1921, Nilsson died in Växjö at the age of 78. See Christina Nilsson’s beautiful portraits in these beautiful photos.