Jenny Lind is one of Sweden’s most notable opera singers and the first international superstar to come out of Sweden. She was known popularly as “the Swedish nightingale”.
Jenny Lind was born in Klara parish in Stockholm on 6 October 1820. Despite being baptised Johanna Maria, she was always known simply as Jenny. Her mother was not married at the time of her birth but in 1835 an additional note was registered stating that Anna Maria Fellborg and Niklas Jonas Lind were her parents. Anna Maria Fellborg came from the lower-middle class section of society. In 1810 she married Captain Rådberg and they had a daughter called Amalia. Two years later, however, she obtained a divorce following the discovery that Rådberg had impregnated one of the neighbour’s maids. Anna Maria Fellborg went back to using her maiden name and earned her living by running a finishing school for girls. Jenny’s father, Niklas Jonas Lind, has been described as a musical layabout, whose background was that of a middle-class craftsman and who called himself both a book-keeper and a manufacturer.
Jenny Lind enrolled as a student at the Kongl. Theater (royal theatre) in September 1830. The then just 12-year old’s great singing talents were already noted in the newspaper Heimdall in 1832. Jenny Lind experienced a turbulent period during the years of 1834–1836 as she fundamentally damaged her voice in a permanent manner. Following a lengthy period of abuse at the hands of her mother Jenny Lind ran away from home and the Kongl. Theater placed her at another finishing school for girls. This initiated drawn-out legal proceedings between the theatre and Jenny Lind’s mother regarding Jenny Lind’s guardianship. The case ended when Niklas Jonas Lind formally recognised that he was Jenny Lind’s father and married Anna Maria Fellborg. Jenny Lind then moved back home.
Jenny Lind was given her first operatic role in 1836 as Georgette in Adolf Fredrik Lindblad’s newly-written opera Frondörerna. She signed her first contract the following year. Her breakthrough performance came through the part of Agathe in Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz which she first sang on 7 March 1838. She expanded her repertoire by landing the lead role in Weber’s Euryanthe and the part of Pamina in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Trollflöjten (The Magic Flute). In 1839 she had further success with the role of Alice in Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable. The Stockholm daily press confirmed the triumph of her performance and that Jenny Lind was now the public’s sole favourite.
In January 1840 Jenny Lind became the royally appointed court singer. The great success of that spring was the Swedish premiere of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, in which Jenny Lind played the title role. That year, at Whitsun, she performed a concert to an audience of 2,000 in Uppsala. She was called “the nightingale” for the first time in a review printed in the Correspondenten newspaper. This concert was just the start of a summer tour through a series of smaller towns, resembling a sort of nationwide triumphal procession.
Just as Jenny Lind’s popularity increased her hoarseness worsened. Her growing popularity placed ever-growing demands on her. During the spring of 1841 she made her debut in another two very taxing Bellini roles: she sang Alaide in La Straniera as well as the title role in Norma. During the autumn of 1841 she travelled to Paris to seek help from Manuel García, the internationally renowned singing instructor at the Paris conservatoire. García prescribed a period of total silence and rest. This was followed by twice-weekly lessons with him for a ten-month period. After completing this course of action in Paris Jenny Lind’s voice was more balanced and she only suffered hoarseness when singing a couple of notes in the lower mid-range.
Jenny Lind returned to the Kongl. Theater in Stockholm in October 1842 when she was 22 years old. The tickets for the premiere performance had sold out months in advance and expectations were elevated. Upon hearing their expectations met the cheers from the audience rose to a level that had never before been experienced at a Swedish theatre. The orchestra was forced to stop playing at several points as they could not hear themselves. Flowers were showered upon Jenny Lind on the stage and when the performance was finished the stage floor was covered in a floral carpet. The critics unanimously agreed that she had surpassed expectations. Her voice had gained a clearer tone and her coloratura and trills were now masterful and confident. The revival of the opera Lucia di Lammermoor became a similar success.
The ensuing period comprised a hectic time of new premieres. Jenny Lind appeared as Amina in Bellini’s La Sonnambula for the first time, and later this role would become her most successful and most-often reprised throughout her stage career. It was, however, overshadowed, during the spring of 1843 by the two further public successes she enjoyed with Johan Berwald’s Nationaldivertissement and En majdag i Wärend. These two plays were part of King Karl XIV Johan’s 25th royal jubilee celebrations. The performances drew packed and enthusiastic audiences. Usually every number was demanded in encore and Jenny Lind was sometimes forced to sing her pieces three times.
During the 1843–1844 season Jenny Lind’s performances included La Sonnambula, Norma, Robert le Diable, La Gazza ladra, Lucia di Lammermoor, and Le Nozze di Figaro. She sang the leading role in Gluck’s Armide, Rossini’s Il turco in Italia, Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, and the two newly-written parts of Julie in Franz Berwald’s Jag går i kloster and Thyra in van Boom’s Necken eller Elfspelet all for the first time.
In December 1844 Jenny Lind gained major international success through her performance as Norma at the Berlin royal opera and shortly thereafter she played the lead role of Vielka in Giacomo Meyerbeer’s newly-written opera Ein Feldlager in Schlesien. Following these guest appearances in Berlin she toured several German cities. The news of her European breakthrough arrived in Sweden leading to the emergence of the first wave of “Jenny Lind fever” in Stockholm. Upon her return in May 1845 she was met at the harbour by thousands of cheering fans.
Jenny Lind made her debut at the Theater an der Wien in the spring of 1846. This was one of the operatic world’s most prestigious theatres. Her success was confirmed when, on opening night, she was called back to the stage 25 times after the performance had concluded. Public interest in her remained at its peak when she once again headed out on tour across Europe. She performed her most popular roles – Norma, Amina, Lucia, and Marie in Gaetano Donazetti’s La fille de Régiment. In 1847 she returned to Vienna in order to perform the title role in Meyerbeer’s reworked opera Vielka which also became a massive hit.
Jenny Lind made her debut at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London in the spring of 1847. Her reputation preceded her. People fought to get tickets and Queen Victoria attended the performance, seated in her royal box seat. Giuseppe Verdi had specifically composed the female lead role of his new opera – Amalia in I Masnadieri – for Jenny Lind. The piece had its premiere in London.
The so-called Jenny Lind fever reached peak height in the 1847–1849 period. Despite sky-high prices for her performances people literally trampled each other in order to queue up to buy tickets. On 10 May 1849 Jenny Lind gave her final opera performance as Alice in Robert Le Diable. After that she only gave concerts. She decided to accept Phineas T. Barnum’s invitation to go on a comprehensive tour of America and as a result of this she became even more famous across larger parts of the world. Barnum was an accomplished marketing man and on 1 September 1850 Jenny Lind was met at the pier in New York by a 30,000-strong crowd of flag-waving and cheering people. The first concert was held at Castle Garden in New York to an audience of about 6,000 people. For a year and a half Jenny Lind toured America and gave more than 100 concerts. Tickets were often auctioned off to the highest bidders and sometimes went for amounts which equalled several years’ worth of an average worker’s annual salary.
Six months into the proceedings the pianist Otto Goldschmidt joined the tour. Just a year later he and Jenny Lind got married in Boston on 5 February 1852. She had previously been engaged on two occasions: first to fellow Stockholm colleague Julius Günter in 1848, and subsequently to the Englishman Claudius Harris in 1849. However, neither of these engagements lasted more than a few months. Once the American tour had concluded the couple settled in Dresden. Five years later they moved to London, and later to Malvern. They had three children together, Walter, Jenny, and Ernest.
During the 1850s Jenny Lind would often appear in concert throughout Europe accompanied by her husband, but from the 1860s onwards the gaps between appearances began to increase. Her last official public performance took place in 1883. For a brief time she served as a singing instructor at the Royal College of Music in London, but withdrew from this role due to ill health.
Jenny Lind died in 1887 at her home in Malvern. She was also buried on the grounds.