Nicolai Gedda

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Nicolai Gedda, 1959 Nicolai Gedda 1959.jpg
Nicolai Gedda, 1959

Harry Gustaf Nikolai Gädda, [1] known professionally as Nicolai Gedda (11 July 1925 – 8 January 2017), [2] was a Swedish operatic tenor. Debuting in 1951, Gedda had a long and successful career in opera until the age of 77 in June 2003, when he made his final operatic recording. Skilled at languages, he performed operas in French, Russian, German, Italian, English, Czech, and Swedish, [3] as well as one in Latin. In January 1958, he created the part of Anatol in the world premiere of the American opera Vanessa at the Metropolitan Opera. [4] Having made some two hundred recordings, [5] Gedda is one of the most widely recorded opera singers in history. [6] His singing is best known for its beauty of tone, vocal control, and musical perception. [7]

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

A tenor is a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range lies between the countertenor and baritone voice types. It is one of the highest of the male voice types. The tenor's vocal range extends up to C5. The low extreme for tenors is roughly A2 (two As below middle C). At the highest extreme, some tenors can sing up to the second F above middle C (F5). The tenor voice type is generally divided into the leggero tenor, lyric tenor, spinto tenor, dramatic tenor, heldentenor, and tenor buffo or spieltenor.

<i>Vanessa</i> (opera) opera

Vanessa is an American opera in three acts by Samuel Barber, opus 32, with an original English libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti. It was composed in 1956–1957 and was first performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on January 15, 1958 under the baton of Dimitri Mitropoulos in a production designed by Cecil Beaton and directed by Menotti. Barber revised the opera in 1964, reducing the four acts to the three-act version most commonly performed today.


Early years

Harry Gustaf Nikolai Gädda, who later changed the spelling of his surname to Gedda, was born in Stockholm to a Swedish mother and a half-Russian father. He was raised by his aunt Olga Gädda and his adoptive father Michail Ustinov (a distant relative of Peter Ustinov), who sang bass in Serge Jaroff's Don Cossack Choir and was cantor in a Russian Orthodox church. [8] Gedda grew up bilingual in Swedish and Russian, and from 1929 to 1934 when his family were living in Leipzig, Germany, he learned German. At the age of 5 Gedda took part in a vocal quartet in the orthodox church in the city. [1] They returned to Sweden in 1934, and the boy attended Katarina Secondary School and the Södra Grammar School. [9] In school he learned English, French and Latin, learning Italian on his own after leaving school.

Stockholm Capital city in Södermanland and Uppland, Sweden

Stockholm is the capital of Sweden and the most populous urban area in the Nordic countries; 965,232 people live in the municipality, approximately 1.6 million in the urban area, and 2.4 million in the metropolitan area. The city stretches across fourteen islands where Lake Mälaren flows into the Baltic Sea. Outside the city to the east, and along the coast, is the island chain of the Stockholm archipelago. The area has been settled since the Stone Age, in the 6th millennium BC, and was founded as a city in 1252 by Swedish statesman Birger Jarl. It is also the county seat of Stockholm County.

Peter Ustinov British actor

Sir Peter Alexander Ustinov,, was a British actor, voice actor, writer, dramatist, filmmaker, theatre and opera director, stage designer, screenwriter, comedian, humourist, newspaper and magazine columnist, radio broadcaster and television presenter. He was a fixture on television talk shows and lecture circuits for much of his career. An intellectual and diplomat, he held various academic posts and served as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and President of the World Federalist Movement.

Serge Alexis Jaroff was the founder, conductor and composer of the Don Cossack Choir Serge Jaroff.

Gedda worked first as a bank teller in a local bank in Stockholm, and was obliged to support his hard-pressed parents financially; his sleeping arrangements were an alcove off the kitchen in their Stockholm apartment. [1] One day he told a customer – a member of the Royal Opera House Orchestra – that he was searching for a good singing teacher, and the client recommended Carl Martin Öhman, [9] a well known Wagnerian tenor from the 1920s, who is also credited with discovering Jussi Björling. Öhman was enthusiastic about Gedda and took him as a pupil, at the beginning without payment, because Gedda was at the time supporting his parents. Two months later his progress was such that he obtained a grant and then won the Christine Nilsson Prize. After a few months he obtained a scholarship and was later able to pay for Öhman's singing lessons. At the Royal Academy of Music and Opera School in Stockholm Gedda was in the class of Kurt Bendix and Ragnar Hyltén-Cavallius from 1950 to 1952. [1]

Jussi Björling Swedish tenor

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Ragnar Hyltén-Cavallius (1885–1970) was a Swedish screenwriter and film director. Hyltén-Cavallius was of the screenwriters of the 1924 Greta Garbo film The Saga of Gosta Berling. He directed seven films including the 1926 co-production A Sister of Six.

Opera career

Gedda made his debut at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm as part of the vocal quartet in the premiere of Der rote Stiefel by Sutermeister in November 1951. [10] In April 1952, at the age of 26, Gedda made his triumphant debut in a principal role in Stockholm, performing Chapelou in Adolphe Adam's Le postillon de Lonjumeau , alongside Hjördis Schymberg. The 'Ronde du Postillon' in the opera, ("Mes amis, écoutez l'histoire"), is considered one of the most difficult tenor arias in all of opera, as it calls for a demanding high D from the soloist.

Royal Swedish Opera building in Stockholm Municipality, Stockholm County, Sweden

Royal Swedish Opera is Sweden's national stage for opera and ballet.

Heinrich Sutermeister Swiss opera composer

Heinrich Sutermeister was a Swiss composer, most famous for his opera Romeo und Julia.

Adolphe Adam French composer and music critic

Adolphe Charles Adam was a French composer and music critic. A prolific composer of operas and ballets, he is best known today for his ballets Giselle (1841) and Le corsaire, his operas Le postillon de Lonjumeau (1836), Le toréador (1849) and Si j'étais roi (1852) and his Christmas carol Minuit, chrétiens! (1844), later set to different English lyrics and widely sung as "O Holy Night" (1847). Adam was a noted teacher, who taught Delibes and other influential composers.

An early appraisal of Gedda's singing was offered by Walter Legge, after first hearing Gedda sing for the role of Dmitry in a planned recording of Boris Godunov .

Walter Legge English classical music producer

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<i>Boris Godunov</i> (opera) opera by Modest Mussorgsky

Boris Godunov is an opera by Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881). The work was composed between 1868 and 1873 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It is Mussorgsky's only completed opera and is considered his masterpiece. Its subjects are the Russian ruler Boris Godunov, who reigned as Tsar during the Time of Troubles, and his nemesis, the False Dmitriy. The Russian-language libretto was written by the composer, and is based on the drama Boris Godunov by Aleksandr Pushkin, and, in the Revised Version of 1872, on Nikolay Karamzin's History of the Russian State.

On my arrival at the airport I was asked by a swarm of journalists if I were not interested in hearing their excellent young Swedish voices. Naturally I was interested, but I did not expect either the front page stories that appeared next morning or the mass of letters and almost incessant telephone calls asking to be heard. I had to ask the Director of the Opera for a room for a couple of days to hear about 100 young aspirants. The first to sing to me (at 9.30 in the morning) was Gedda who had, I believe, sung only once in public. He sang the Carmen Flower Song so tenderly yet passionately that I was moved almost to tears. He delivered the difficult rising scale ending with a clear and brilliant B flat. Almost apologetically I asked him to try to sing it as written – pianissimo, rallentando and diminuendo. Without turning a hair he achieved the near-miracle, incredibly beautifully and without effort. I asked him to come back at 8 that evening and sent word to my wife that a great singer had fallen into my lap and to Dobrowen that, believe it or not, this 23-year-old Gedda was the heaven-sent Dmitry for our Boris. [11]

<i>Carmen</i> opera in four acts by French composer Georges Bizet

Carmen is an opera in four acts by French composer Georges Bizet. The libretto was written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on a novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. The opera was first performed by the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 3 March 1875, where its breaking of conventions shocked and scandalized its first audiences.

Issay Dobrowen Composer and pianist

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As a result of the audition with Legge, Gedda was contracted for three HMV opera recordings – Boris Godunov , Die Lustige Witwe and Das Land des Lächelns – as well as the B minor mass by Bach and a Swedish song recital accompanied by Bendix. [1] In 1953, he made his début at La Scala as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni , followed by one the tenor soloists in the premiere of Orff's Trionfo di Afrodite . [10] In January the following year he made his debut at the Paris Opéra as Damon in Les Indes galantes , with Huon in Weber's Oberon and Tamino in The Magic Flute in the same year, Alfredo in La traviata and the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto in 1956, Cassio in Otello in 1957 and the title role in Faust in 1961. [12] He was based in France at this time, and began an association with the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence in 1954, starting with Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Vincent in Mireille , then Orphée in Orphée et Eurydice , Thespis and Mercure in Platée , and Ferrando in Così fan tutte ; [13] several productions being recorded. [14] Diapason magazine described him as the greatest French tenor of his generation, both for his essential casting in Faust and Contes d'Hoffmann , but also for his role in the re-emergence of interest in French grand opera, which owed much to his ability to match the requirements of roles such as Arnold in Guillaume Tell , the Cellini and Enée of Berlioz, as well as the title role of Meyerbeer's Le prophète . [15] In 1966, prior to assuming the role at Covent Garden, Gedda said that Cellini was one of his favourite parts; when he prepared the role for the Holland Festival production in 1961 he became totally absorbed in the historical figure of the 16th-century Italian goldsmith and sculptor. [9]

External audio
Nuvola apps arts.svg Gedda as Camille, Count de Rosillon in Franz Lehar's opera The Merry Widow , Lovro von Matacic conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Eberhard Waechter in 1963

In Salzburg he took part in the August 1957 premiere of the three-act version of Rolf Liebermann's Die Schule der Frauen (as Oronte), conducted by Georg Solti, where Gedda "matched his free lyric tenor with an animation of personality that came as a surprise". [16] After his U.S debut as Faust in Pittsburgh in 1957, Gedda made his Metropolitan Opera début in the title role of Gounod's Faust the same year, [10] and went on to sing 28 roles there over the next 26 years, including the world premiere of Barber's Vanessa and the U.S. premiere of Menotti's The Last Savage . He was the last singer to stand on the stage of the 'old Met': the final curtain of the gala evening fell after his appearance in the finale from Faust. [9]

Gedda made his Royal Opera House Covent Garden début in 1954 as the Duke in Verdi's Rigoletto (in English). He returned in 1963 for La damnation de Faust and for Benvenuto Cellini (in 1966, 1969 and 1976); Alfredo in 1972, Gustavus III in 1977, Nemorino in 1981, Lensky (in 1979 and 1982) and Abdisu in Palestrina . [17]

Gedda's only foray in Wagner was the title role in Lohengrin in Stockholm in January 1966, where one critic wrote that his "command of intonation and rhythm contributed to an overwhelmingly beautiful impression right from his unaccompanied appearance in the first act". [18] He was supposed to sing Lohengrin at the Bayreuth Festival in 1967, but his engagement for an American television film of Faust in the summer of that year prevented it. [9]

Gedda made more than 200 complete LP and CD recordings over a wide variety of styles [1] and several of the roles may be considered among the most challenging in the entire operatic repertoire, notably Arnold in Rossini's Guillaume Tell and Arturo in I puritani , both requiring high notes and an easy legato line. In recordings he was also noted in lighter opera, whether the Viennese operettas of Strauss ( Die Fledermaus , Eine Nacht in Venedig , Wienerblut ) or Lehár ( Die lustige Witwe , Das Land des Lächelns ), in Bernstein ( Candide ) or Hahn ( Ciboulette ). [15]

He had a small role in the 1952 film Eldfågeln , in which he sang "Ack, Värmeland du sköna". [19]

A singer of unusual longevity, Gedda was active well into his late 70s; in May 2001 he recorded the role of the Emperor Altoum in Puccini's Turandot and the role of the High Priest in Mozart's Idomeneo in June 2003.

Art song

Nicolai Gedda at the Korsholm Music Festival, 1987. Nikolai gedda.JPG
Nicolai Gedda at the Korsholm Music Festival, 1987.

In addition to his opera performances, Gedda cultivated an active parallel career on the concert platform and as a recitalist, with a large repertoire of French, German, Scandinavian, and Russian art songs as well as larger works for the concert platform. As an interpreter of Lieder he performed for over 25 years with the pianist Jan Eyron  [ sv ]. [20] Gedda's language skills, intellectual approach and musicality, as well as his extensive recordings, rendered him particularly indispensable in this genre. [21] He also sang, and recorded, sacred music, including Russian liturgical music. [22] His discography includes large-scale sacred works such as the Mozart Requiem, Beethoven's Christ on the Mount of Olives , Missa solemnis and Ninth Symphony, Lélio, ou le retour à la vie , Elijah , the Verdi Requiem and The Dream of Gerontius ; while his song repertoire extended beyond Swedish composers and folksongs to Schubert, Schumann, a wide range of Russian romances from Glinka to Rachmaninoff, mélodies, Janáček's The Diary of One Who Disappeared , and many Russian folksongs.


In 1965 he became a Swedish Court Singer and in 1966 he was inducted into the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. In 1968 he was a recipient of the Swedish royal medal Litteris et Artibus. In 1976 he was awarded the Gold Medal for the Promotion of the Art of Music (Swedish: För tonkonstens främjande) by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, and in 2007 he received the Caruso prize.

In 2010 he received the Legion of Honor (Légion d'honneur), the highest French decoration, from then president of France Nicolas Sarkozy.

Gedda was a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and in 1994 he was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy. [23]

Personal life

Outside music Gedda had many hobbies, as a keen sportsman, a connoisseur of painting and sculpture, and well-read in literature, often reading works of major novelists in the original where he commanded the language. He also had a passion for visiting zoos, saying that if he did not have to travel for his profession he would like "to keep a complete menagerie in my home". [9]

His first marriage was to the pianist Nadine Sapounoff-Nova [24] [25] (1953–1961), his second to Anastasia Caraviotis, an American of Greek origin (1965–1991), and last from 1997 to the journalist and writer Aino Sellermark.

He published his first memoirs, Gåvan är inte gratis (The gift is not gratis) in 1977, with the help of his future wife, Aino Sellermark. Later the two wrote another biography, Nicolai Gedda: My Life and Art, which was published by Amadeus Press in 1999.

His death on 8 January 2017, aged 91, was not announced by his family until 9 February 2017. He died after a heart attack at his home in Tolochenaz in the Swiss canton of Vaud. [26]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hastings, Stephen (April 2017). "Nicolai Gedda, 1925–2017". Opera. 68 (4): 460–462.
  2. Decalf, Guillaume (9 February 2017). "Le ténor suédois Nicolai Gedda est mort" [Swedish Tenor Nicolai Gedda has died]. France Musique (in French). Stockholm. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  3. Gedda, Gedda & Geddes 2003, pp. 203–18.
  4. Gedda, Gedda & Geddes 2003, p. 203.
  5. Gedda, Gedda & Geddes 2003, pp. 225–37.
  6. Brug, Manuel (11 July 2015). "Das strahlende Lächeln im Land der Musik". Die Welt (in German). Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  7. Warrack, John; West, Ewan (1996). Nicolai Gedda. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press.
  8. Nicolai Gedda Homepage
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Gisela Storjohann. People : 67 – Nicolai Gedda. Opera, December 1966, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 939–944.
  10. 1 2 3 Rosenthal, Harold; Gedda., Nicolai (1997). The New Grove Dictionary of Opera . London and New York: Macmillan.
  11. Legge, Walter (1998). Walter Legge: Words and Music. Routledge (UK), pp. 204–05. ISBN   0-415-92108-2.
  12. Nicolai Gedda on French Art-Lyrique website, accessed 17 April 2017.
  13. Alain Pâris. Dictionnaire des interprètes et de l'interprétation musicale au XX siècle. Éditions Robert Laffont, Paris, 1995 (pp. 443–444).
  14. D. Kern Holoman. The Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire – The Aix-en-Provence Festival Recordings, accessed 22 April 2017.
  15. 1 2 Dupuy, Emmanuel. Hommage – Nicolai Gedda 'Votre Humble Serviteur'. Diapason, No. 656, April 2017, pp. 26-29.
  16. Porter, Andrew. Festival Postscript: Salzburg. Opera, November 1957, Vol. 8, No. 11, pp. 697 & 700.
  17. Royal Opera House performance database accessed 26 February 2017.
  18. Bergliot Krohn Bucht. Report from Stockholm. Opera, June 1966, pp. 482–3.
  19. Eldfågeln (1952) at The Swedish Film Database, accessed 14 May 2007.
  20. "Jan Eyron 70 år. 3 June 2004", Helsingborgs Dagblad ; accessed 14 May 2017.
  21. Miller, Richard (2003) Solutions for Singers: Tools for Every Performer and Teacher. Oxford University Press, pg. 118. ISBN   0-19-516005-3. ("Regardless of the ethnic or national origin of the singer, excellence in diction and enunciation are to a large extent dependent on the principle of anticipatory consonants. Nicolai Gedda is a prime example of an international artist who sings beautifully in languages not natively his. Like Fischer-Dieskau, he makes much use of the anticipatory consonant. A list of current singing artists who have mastered this technique would include most of today's great singers.")
  22. Russian Orthodox Church Music – Nicolai Gedda | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic
  23. "Honorary Members of the Royal Academy of Music)". Royal Academy of Music. 14 October 2009. Retrieved 14 October 2009.
  24. Les lundis musicaux de l'Athénée (directeur : Pierre Bergé), ed. (March 18, 1985). Récital Nicolai Gedda, ténor ; Nadia Gedda Nova, pianiste (in French). Paris.Unknown parameter |other= ignored (|others= suggested) (help).
  25. Christophe Rizoud (February 9, 2017). "Décès de Nicolai Gedda". : le magazine du monde lyrique (in French)..
  26. "Nicolai Gedda, Celebrated Opera Tenor, Dies at 91" by Margalit Fox, The New York Times , 10 February 2017. Retrieved 11 February 2017.


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