I WAS A HOTEL DICK
and the STALKER
How Andy learned to love
grand opera the easy way
By ANDY MURCIA
Every now and then a person comes into your life and you become more enlightened for just having known them. For me, such a person was the great opera diva Birgit Nilsson.
I had no clue who she was when the Lyric Opera of Chicago called me to arrange a special security plan for Ms. Nilssons stay with us at the Ambassador East Hotel, where I worked when I was not on duty as a Chicago police officer.
They were concerned for her safety because there was a woman stalking Ms. Nilsson. I learned that the stalker woman would somehow obtain a scarf owned by Ms. Nilsson and wear it to her performance. She would get herself seated in the first row so as to be seen by Ms. Nilsson from the stage. As with most stalkers, they are usually fanatical about the person they stalk. This stalker could obviously afford to follow Ms. Nilsson around the world wherever she performed and somehow get herself booked into the same hotel.
In addition to the obvious theft of property from Ms. Nilsson, the mere presence of the stalker would be unnerving, to say the least, for the opera star. What's more, the stalker would be right there at the Ambassador East Hotel!
I quickly scheduled other off duty Chicago police detectives around the clock to bodyguard Ms. Nilsson and secure her suite at the hotel. I took the late night shift since I was single at the time and my apartment was just blocks from the hotel. My old partner, Det. Ray Komara, also helped me a lot on this case.
When the Lyric Opera folks would bring Ms. Nilsson back to our hotel after her performance, shed find me in her suite. Ms. Nilsson always wanted me to do a walk through of the entire suite with her so she would feel secure there for the night. Once she was sure that there was nobody else there, shed offer me a cup of tea. I sensed she was still wired from her performance and her after show meeting and greeting of VIPs. I got the feeling that she didnt want to hit the hay just yet. So, as we sipped our tea, she asked me if I enjoyed opera.
I told her I knew nothing about opera. She asked me did I even listen to opera? I told her the very little that I did hear gave me a headache! She threw her head back and laughed out loud. My being brain dead about opera seemed to delight her in some fashion for she stared playing certain arias. She would tell me about the composer and other interesting facts. She started me on Giacomo Puccini's operas and they started to grow on me. Here I was a Chicago cop with not much education about the finer things in life, being taught about opera by this great diva. I soon found myself hooked on this Puccini! Man, he wrote the hits!
One night prior to Ms. Nilssons return to the hotel I learned that a maid had found another guest's door suspiciously half open. The maid called me in security. It just so happened that the room was registered to the woman who was the suspected stalker of Ms. Nilsson. What a break!
In I went. I found the guest's suitcase was open and some dresser drawers as well. I observed, should we say, adult female sex toys all over the room. I read open, unmailed love letters from this woman to Ms Nilsson. The letters and notes displayed beyond any doubt the sexual attraction this woman had for Ms. Nilsson. This woman was obviously living her fantasy by chasing after Ms. Nilsson all over the globe.
Birgit Nilsson had no knowledge of any of her fantasy or thoughts of her. Ms. Nilsson was a happily married woman and perhaps one of the nicest ladies I ever met. She was born a farm girl in her native country of Sweden. Her father farmed the land with her mother who also sang and got Birgit interested in singing early on.
After what I observed in the stalker's hotel room, it was time for me to have a chat with this suspect.
I had my chat with the stalker woman, knowing it was Ms. Nilssons wish that we just prevent any criminality and not arrest her as this would cause unwanted publicity.
During my interrogation of the suspect, she broke down and cried, saying she was simply in love with Birgit Nilsson and her magnificent voice and would not hurt her in any way. She simply wanted Ms. Nilsson to notice her. She admitted to bribing maids in other hotels where Ms. Nilsson had stayed to let her retrieve her scarf etc. This is how she managed to obtain the items from Nilsson suites in other hotels. She did not enter Ms. Nilssons suite at the Ambassador East, as I would have known about it. I gave the suspect some real good advice as to how she should proceed from this point on if she wanted to avoid spending a lot of time in Chicagos Cook County Jail.
This seemed to scare some sense into her wealthy head and she checked out of our hotel immediately and left for her home in Europe. Ms. Nilsson was happy about this case coming to a quiet end. I heard later from the Lyric Opera folks that this woman stalker never disturbed nor was she ever seen again by Birgit Nilsson for the rest of her tour.
Several weeks after she left our hotel, I received a recording in the mail from Birgit Nilsson of her singing the Princess role in "Turandot." It came with a short note that read; I pray this will not give you a headache! Thank you for everything. Fondly, Birgit
Now that Im a real opera nut (thanks to Birgit) Im often asked by other opera lovers, what was Birgit Nilsson really like? I tell them that she was a simple farm girl, totally uncomplicated, very easy to talk with. She had excellent manners, and while not a raving beauty, her open and kindly face grew on me and gained its own beauty. Off stage, her eyes were very soft, yet they could become fiery when making an exciting point. She struck me as a good person with good values. She seemed just a little on the shy side at first, though Im told she negotiated her own contracts.
In fact, Birgit Nilsson supposedly once told a famous opera house manager, who was known for paying his opera stars as little as possible, that if he did not pay her what she was worth that he should know, It is the happy birdie who sings the sweetest. She got her fee.
On another occasion she was making a recording with a large orchestra when the temperamental conductor told her during a disagreement about an arrangement that he had to be concerned equally with his musicians' ego as well as Birgit's while recording. He said the flute players opinion was equal to Birgits. At which point, Birgit asked him nicely, And tell me, please, how many recordings will be purchased because of the flute player?
The conductor wound up doing it Birgits way. She was loaded with common sense and a sense of what was best for her and her performance.
Birgit Nilsson gave me an autographed photo that I'm afraid I've lost somewhere over the years. But she gave me far more than that prized photo. She gave me my interest in opera. I dont pretend to be an expert on the subject, by any means, as I never really could get past Puccini and his operas. As I said, this Cat is truly the hit man of opera.
I've collected all Puccini's operas, scores and librettos. I have seen most of his operas performed, either in Rome or right here in Los Angeles or Orange County Opera in Irvine, Ca. My wife, Ann Jillian, has always enjoyed opera, so we have this is common. Together, we exposed our son to opera early on in his life and by age four he was singing a Puccini duet with Mama Ann. His Italian was perfect, too!
Opera by Puccini has enriched my life and allowed me to pass this on to my son, who also enjoys hard rock, At 16, he's now very knowledgeable about opera. I have my meeting the great Brigit Nilsson to thank for this gift.
Now, whenever I hear Calaf singing Nessa Dorma to the Princess in "Turandot, Puccinis last opera, I just close my eyes and I see the diva who sang it in performance first for Puccini himselfand again for me on the couch in her suite at the Ambassador East Hotel.
Birgit is singing for God these days in Heaven, she passed away on Christmas day in 2005 at age 87 in her home at Bjarlov, a small village near Kristianstad in Skane in the same county where she was born. She was survived by her husband Bertil Niklasson (who passed away in 2007), a former veterinary student whom she had met on a train and married in 1948. They had no children. When asked in one of her last interviews why she, a woman who had traveled the world, would retire back to this small farm town, she quoted her mother who told her long ago, Stay close to the earth, then when you fall down, it wont hurt so much.
She had enriched so many lives with her powerful voice. She may have been known as a tenor killer because she made tenors perform at their very best to match her, but, in real life she was a kind-hearted lady who related to everyone and was arguably one of the top voices ever in the world of opera.
I urge everyone to find one of her recordings and listen to her sing. Her royalties these days go to her foundation, which assists singers to study opera. Im so proud to say that for a brief moment in time, she was my sweet friend, having me in for tea.
©2009 by Andy Murcia. The Murcia caricature is ©2003 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted Jan. 26, 2009.
TO ACCESS ANDY MURCIA'S ARCHIVE OF COLUMNS ON THIS SITE, CLICK HERE: MURCIA ARCHIVE
You can comment on this column online. Please address your message to either "The Editors" or Andy Murcia. To send an email, click here and don't forget to mention Andy's name: firstname.lastname@example.org
HOME About Us Index To
Talkback Contact Us