Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon

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Barbro Hedvig Viktoria Salén


Patron of the arts, opera enthusiast

Barbro Salén was an important patron of opera. She started the foundation Barbro Saléns stiftelse that hands out annual scholarships to promising singers.

Barbro Salén was born in 1941 in Jönköping. She was the daughter of Sonja Viktoria Holmgren, née Lansing, and Bror Ivan Heribert Holmgren. She had a younger brother, Lennart. Nothing much is known about Barbro Salén’s childhood and schooling. However, she qualified as a physiotherapist.

In 1963, she married Christer Salén, a shipowner and director, and the son of Sven Salén who founded the shipping company Salénrederierna AB. As the wife of a shipping magnate, Barbro Salén had the honour several times of naming ships, for example the refrigerator vessel Arawak, built at the Eriksberg shipyard in Gothenburg in the 1960s for the company Salénrederierna AB, and the largest and fastest passenger and car ferry at the time in the world, that was launched in Lübeck in 1974.

For Barbro Salén, the marriage meant that she had Sven Salén as her father-in-law and it was thanks to him that she started to be interested in opera. He was not only a shipping magnate but also a competitive sailor, as well as being a singer and composer. With among others Evert Taube, he founded the association Visans vänner. He was a friend of Jussi Björling and had an extensive record collection which opened up the world of opera to her.

The Salén couple had two children: Patrik, born in 1965, and Katarina, born in 1971. The couple divorced in 1979. After their divorce, Barbro Salén worked as a physiotherapist with cancer patients at the Karolinska Institutet. She retired after 25 years and opera became a more and more dominating interest. After the start of the new millennium, she came to know Birgitta Svendén, the principal of the opera academy Operahögskolan in Stockholm, and they both often talked about how life was for the students – the young singers. They had heavy study loans, were exposed to hard competition and a particularly insecure job market. To become a successful stage artist, great demands were placed on both voice and personality.

Barbro Salén deliberated over what she could do to make things easier for voice students. She and her husband at the time had bought an art work painted by Joan Miró in 1963: Personnage, during a visit to Paris in 1968. It hung in a dark corner of her hall at home, and was not appreciated there by anyone, and she decided to sell it at an auction. The proceeds from the sale became the starting capital for Barbro Saléns stiftelse that she founded in 2007. The auction firm Bukowskis also decided to support the art of opera by abstaining from their sales commission. The aim of the foundation was and is to promote teaching and education in the various fields of music.

Barbro Salén expressed the desire for young opera singers to be “ready to fly, and that the scholarships will give them wings”. It was also possible to award scholarships to instrumentalists and conductors. Barbro Salén was herself a member of the jury that otherwise consisted of some of the best known soloists and conductors in Sweden. She joined the Kungliga Operans Donationsfond and became one of the most acclaimed patrons in the world of opera.

During the years, Barbro Salén was a faithful visitor to the Opera and followed the development and careers of the students at the Operahögskolan with great interest and joy. She deepened her knowledge about everything to do with the art of opera and developed “a good ear for voices”. She became a valuable ambassador for the Kungliga Operan.

Barbro Salén died in 2019 at 78 years of age. Her obituary was decorated with a heart and a G clef beside a cross and a song text composed by her father-in-law Sven Salén.

Ulla Åshede
(Translated by Margaret Myers)

Published 2021-03-22

You are welcome to cite this article but always provide the author’s name as follows:

Barbro Hedvig Viktoria Salén,, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon (article by Ulla Åshede), retrieved 2024-07-24.

Other Names

    Maiden name: Holmgren

Family Relationships

Civil Status: Divorced
  • Mother: Sonja Viktoria Holmgren, född Lansing
  • Father: Bror Ivan Heribert Holmgren
  • Brother: Karl Lennart Holmgren
more ...


  • Yrkesutbildning, : Utbildning till sjukgymnast


  • Profession: Sjukgymnast, Karolinska Institutet
  • Non-profit work: Operamecenat, grundare, Barbro Saléns stiftelse


  • Relative: Sven Salén, svärfar
  • Friend: Birgitta Svendén


  • Kungliga Operans Donationsfond
  • Barbro Saléns stiftelse
    Instiftare, donator


  • Birthplace: Jönköping
  • Jönköping
  • Stockholm
  • Place of death: Stockholm