Elisabeth Lillström

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Elisabeth Lillström
Born Elisabeth Söderman
Died 4 April 1791 (age 74)
Other names Elise Lillström, Lisa Lillström, Madame Lillström
Spouse(s) Petter Lillström
Bollhuset at Slottsbacken in Stockholm during the 1780s. From right to left: Stockholm Palace, Storkyrkan, Bollhuset Theatre and the Tessin Palace. Drawing, Martin Rudolf Heland.
Elisabeth Olin, the daughter of Elisabeth Lillström.

Elisabeth "Elise" or "Lisa" Lillström, née Söderman (1717 – 4 April 1791) was a Swedish stage actress and opera singer, one of the first professional native female actors in Sweden, mother of Elisabeth Olin, née Lillström. She was one of the group of pioneers and the prima donna of the first native actor generation in the theatre of Bollhuset in Stockholm from 1737 to 1753 and one of the most famous actresses in Sweden in the mid 18th century.


Her background does not seem to be known. She was married to the musician Petter Lillström (1714–76), who is confirmed as a member of the theatre's orchestra from at least 1744, later as the orchestra's director.

Early career[edit]

Lillström's employment at the theatre is a part of history as it involves the employment of the first native female actors hired to perform in Scandinavia, and thus, making a new profession available for her gender. It is also the history of the first professional native actors in Sweden altogether, making her a pioneer in both aspects. Until 1737, the acting profession in Sweden had been reserved for foreigners, and the theatre of Bollhuset only hired foreign troupes. In 1737, the first national stage was founded, a project which required the employment and education of native actors. These actors were, according to the British ambassador Edward Finch, made by :"students, clerks and lady's maids".

In Sweden, unlike some other countries, there was never any real opposition against women performing on the stage; it was considered natural to have women perform the female parts in the plays, and on 25 May 1737, two women were hired to perform the female parts. One was deemed not suitable, but the other, Beata Sabina Straas a former lady's maid to a lady-in-waiting at the royal court, is remembered as Sweden's first professional native actress to perform on a public stage. In June 1737, two other women, known only as "Miss Wijkman" and "Miss Lund", were hired. Straas retired in 1739 and Wijkman and Lund are not mentioned after 1739. It was therefore necessary to replace them with long-term actors, and in 1740, a large group of new actors were hired, among them many females to replace the first, temporary actresses. These names are stated in a list from 1741, which names Anna Maria Sualing, Anna Lindbohm, Susanna Catharina Steenberg, and Elisabeth Lillström.

The history of this first national stage in Sweden is poorly documented, especially after it had become a private venture in 1740. The casting-lists for the plays are missing and the parts are mostly unknown even for the most known actors in the troupe. The information on the actors is also often poor, more so for the female than the male actors, except for the leading members. Lillström and Margareta Maria Fabritz were the most famed actresses.

The theatre was an "Opera-theatre" and performed both spoken and singing drama, and the singing and dancing parts became more frequent during the 1740s. Though Lillström was never formally called an opera singer, she was a soprano and frequently used in singing parts as well as theatre, in which she had great success. She was the leading lady of the stage and often played the leading female parts.

Elise Lillström played the main part of the nymph Syrinx in Syrinx by Lars Lalin or P. Lindahl, composed by Johan Ohl, often called the first Swedish opera comique, in the 1747–1748 season opposite Peter Lindahl (as Harlequin), Johanna Embeck (Chlorix), Petter Stenborg (Philemon), Trundman (Sylvanus) and her own daughter, Elisabeth Olin, who debuted at the age of six in the singing part of the love god Astrild, as well as the leading part in Den straffade förmätenheten eller Arachne hvilken blifver förvandlad i en spindel (The punished inpudence or Archne enchanted within a spider) by Lars Lalin in the 1750-51 season. She was the benefit receiver of these plays, normally given to the more significant members of the staff, as well as for the child play Menlöshetens tempel (The Sanctuary of Pointlesseness) by Peter Lindahl in the 1749–50 season, where her daughter is believed to have participated.

Lillström was not only an actor, but also had a position in the management of the theatre. After the theatre became a private company in 1740, it was ruled by a board of directors made of the most important members of the staff. Of twelve members of the board, four were female, and Elisabeth Lillström was one of these. The other female members were Maria Margareta Fabritz and Catharina Sofia Murman, whose husbands were also members of the board, and Johanna Embeck; Lillström's husband, however, was not a member of the board.

Later career[edit]

This first attempt to start a national stage in Sweden was to be but a temporary one. The queen, Louisa Ulrika of Prussia, who was interested only in French-language theatre, hired a French theatre troupe in 1753, and after sharing the theatre during the 1753–54 season, the locals were reserved for the French troupe. The Swedish troupe then split in two; one toured the countryside under Peter Lindahl and Johan Bergholtz, the other, the Stenborg Troupe, stayed in Stockholm under Petter Stenborg. Elisabeth Lillström and her husband joined the troupe of Stenborg, which performed in various locals in the city of Stockholm and in Finland.

Lillström's husband is listed as an organist in the Katarina Church in Stockholm until 1770 but also led the music for the troupe, at least during performances in Stockholm. In 1761 and 1762, the Stenborg troupe was given permission to perform Swedish plays at Bollhuset for his benefit, and the 4 December 1770, Elisabeth Lillström played Salmonea in the tragedy Maccabeerne given to the benefit of her husband, who also composed the music. The same year, three members of the former Swedish theatre troupe of Bollhuset were praised "for their valuable contributions to the nation and to themselves, which has given hope of the Art of Acting in Sweden"; these three were Peter Palmberg and Kristian Knöppel, two of the leading male actors of the troupe, and Elisabeth Lillström.

The daughter of Elisabeth Lillström, Elisabeth Olin, who debuted as a child actor by the side of her mother in Syrinx in 1747, became a notable concert-singer in the 1750s. When a national stage in Sweden was opened again in 1773, and this time permanently, Elisabeth Olin followed in her mother's footsteps by being one of the most important pioneers and Sweden's first native opera prima donna.

Other well known actresses from the troupe were Johanna Catharina Embeck, who debuted 1747, later active in the Stenborg troupe until the 1796 and thereby the actor with the longest career of the troupe, and Christina Catharina Lindberg, who under the name Mademoiselle Londberg was a beneficiary-receiver and thereby played the leading role in a play in 1749; after 1753 she became a star in the troupe of Petter Stenborg.

See also[edit]


  • http://runeberg.org/sbh/b0234.html (in Swedish)
  • Österberg, Carin et al., Svenska kvinnor: föregångare, nyskapare (Swedish women; predecessors, pioneers). Lund: Signum 1990. (ISBN 91-87896-03-6) (in Swedish)
  • Svensk uppslagsbok. 1947 års utgåva (Swedish dictionary. 1947 edition) (in Swedish)
  • Frihetstiden (The Age of Liberty) Signum (in Swedish)
  • Tryggve Byström: Svenska Komedien 1737-1754 (The Swedish comedy 1737-1754) (in Swedish)
  • Johan Flodmark: Stenborgska skådebanorna (The Stenborg Stages (in Swedish)