Joel Berglund


Born: June 4, 1903 Died: January 21, 1985
Commanding a voluminous bass-baritone of striking beauty and perfect formation for Wagner (deep pedal tones in the lower register firmly supporting a sturdy middle and finely focused upper register), Joel Berglund enjoyed considerable success in several international venues before assuming the directorship of the Stockholm Opera in his mid-forties. Berglund continued to sing in numerous productions there for another decade while guiding the fortunes of his country's foremost opera house. Berglund ranks with the twentieth century's foremost artists in his vocal category in addition to having been a shrewd and galvanizing singing actor.

After study at the Stockholm Conservatory with the famous baritone John Forsell, Berglund made his debut with the Stockholm Opera as Monterone (Rigoletto) in 1929 and continued as a house artist in Stockholm for the ensuing two decades. Thereafter, he combined singing with administrative responsibilities as the company's director (1949 - 1956) and, still later, appeared regularly as a guest artist until 1964. Following appearances in America as a concert singer, the Metropolitan Opera became interested in Berglund to bolster its roster of artists capable of sustaining heroic roles in Wagner and Strauss. Expected at the Metropolitan on the eve of WWII, Berglund was kept by the hostilities from his New York stage debut while the aging Friedrich Schorr was sorely tested in continuing to meet the needs of the bass-baritone wing. Berglund did sing abroad, however, making an appearance at Bayreuth in 1942 as Vanderdecken in Der fliegende Holländer.

When Berglund finally arrived at the Metropolitan as "a strong, well-detailed Sachs" in a January 9, 1946 Meistersinger, he was welcomed as an artist of the first rank. In quick succession, Berglund impressed critics and audiences alike as the Walküre Wotan and Kurwenal. During the 1946 - 1947 season, a March 15 Parsifal enabled Berglund to prove how comfortable he was in the lower reaches of a true bass role when he sang a Gurnemanz to particular acclaim. Earlier, he sang a powerful Wanderer in Siegfried. During the 1947 - 1948 season, a Ring cycle mounted concurrently with the Metropolitan's first venture with Peter Grimes was strengthened considerably by Berglund's participation, his Rheingold Wotan being singled out both for his canny portrayal of the young god and for the sovereign command he brought to his singing.

In his final season at the Metropolitan, Berglund was the Jochanaan at the February 4 debut of Ljuba Welitch in Salome, and managed not to disappear under her dramatic and vocal onslaught. Indeed, his virile singing and realization of the prophet's fanaticism enabled the red-haired soprano to surpass herself and provide the New York house one of the most talked-about nights in its history. Just before his return to Sweden to assume the directorship in Stockholm, Berglund repeated his "excellent" Gurnemanz, thereafter leaving the Metropolitan without a leading bass-baritone until the arrival of Hans Hotter and Paul Schöffler.

While Berglund's American career focused on Wagner and Strauss, he sang French and Italian roles in Sweden (primarily in the Swedish language). He was an insinuating Mephistopheles in Faust and a profoundly troubled Athanaël in Thaïs. In the Italian repertory, he was celebrated for his Scarpia as well as for his Simon Boccanegra and Filippo II in Don Carlo. Berglund's stage savvy and flexible singing technique made him a notable Figaro in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro.