Elisabeth Söderström's illustrious career began with her studies at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. Born in that city on May 7, 1927, she made her operatic debut at the age of twenty in 1947 at the Drottningholm Court Theatre as Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne. Soon after, she joined the Stockholm Royal Opera, remaining a leading member of that company for thirty years.
She appeared at the Royal Opera in London in roles at the opposite ends of the emotional scale, from the Governess in Britten's The Turn of the Screw and Marie in Berg's Wozzeck to Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus and Saffi in Der Zigeunerbaron. Further debuts followed at the Salzburg Festival in 1955, Glyndebourne in 1957, and the Metropolitan Opera in 1959 as Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. Her extensive repertoire included Mélisande, Leonore (Fidelio), Countess (Strauss's Capriccio), Countess Almaviva, Jenufa, Marguerite, and all three leading female roles in Der Rosenkavalier.
In a career spanning four decades, she was also an accomplished recitalist, and was especially known for her interpretation of the songs of Sibelius and Rachmaninoff, which she recorded with pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy. She was appointed official court singer to King Gustavus VI in 1959, and in Britain was appointed honorary CBE in 1985. Later in her career, she gave extensive master classes, and served as director of the Drottningholm Festival from 1991 to 1997. She retired on the fiftieth anniversary of her debut in that theatre. She died on November 20, 2009 in Sweden.
Her magnificent voice was beloved throughout the operatic world. Her letter of acceptance to JBS (delivered by Advisor Barbro Ehnbom during our June 5th conference session and reprinted in part below) is most eloquent. We are privileged to share it with you.
"Thank you very much for inviting me to serve on the Advisory Board of the Jussi Björling Society-USA. As far as my other commitments permit, I would love to assist you in any way I can. I consider it an honour and a privilege to be a part of your aim to preserve the memory of my countryman, Jussi Björling, one the greatest Swedish singers of the 20th century. At the same time I want to compliment you on your enthusiasm, your dedication to the cause, and the tireless efforts you have devoted to bringing the society to life within such a short time.
I congratulate you on your accomplishments and wish you all the best for the first conference of the Jussi Björling Society - USA. Please convey my heartfelt greetings to all the Friends of Jussi Björling."