Opera Scotland

Nicolai Gedda Suggest updates

Harry Gustaf Nicolai Gädda (raised by his uncle as Nicolai Ustinov).

Born Stockholm, 11 July 1925.

Died 8 January 2017.

Swedish tenor of Russian background.

 

A memorable performer

Nicolai Gedda was one of the leading lyric tenors of his generation, and perhaps one of the greatest of all time. His performances tended to stick in the mind.

He had a long career, always at the top of his profession. His first recording (Grigory in Boris Godunov) was made in 1951 and his last (the High Priest in Idomeneo) in 2003. While a versatile performer with a wide repertoire, he was particularly noted for his stylish interpretations of French music.

Gedda studied with Carl Martin Öhman in Stockholm, and quickly made his debut with the Royal Opera there in 1951 in Sutermeister's Der rote Stiefel, soon followed in 1952 by Chapelou in Le postillon de Longjumeau by Adam - an example of the high-lying French roles he would later make his own. He came to the attention of the British record producer Walter Legge of EMI, who cast him in Boris Godunov (the first of Boris Christoff's recordings). Legge then recorded the Bach B minor Mass with him, and teamed him with his wife, the soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopn in a series of six now legendary recordings of Viennese operettas made in London with the Philharmonia. He continued to add to that catalogue of lighter music in later years.

Major international debuts came quickly - Don Ottavio at La Scala Milan (1953 with Karajan) and Alfredo and Oberon in Weber's opera at the Paris Opéra (1954). His first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in 1957 was in Gounod's Faust, and he returned to New York almost every season over the next quarter-century.

Gedda's Covent Garden appearances were surprisingly infrequent, beginning in 1954 as Duke of Mantua and returning as Benvenuto Cellini (in 1966 and again a decade later, going on the Royal Opera's La Scala exchange in 1976), as well as Alfredo, Gustavus, Lensky and Nemorino. He returned as late as 1997, when Palestrina received its belated Covent Garden premiere. He had been renowned for his interpretation of the title role, but here joined an illustrious cast in the short part of Abdisu.

Edinburgh

Gedda first appeared at the Edinburgh Festival as a member of the Royal Opera Stockholm company in 1959 (also as Duke of Mantua). In 1967 he sang Orpheus in a Festival production of Haydn's opera with Joan Sutherland as Eurydice. Concert performances, in addition to The Damnation of Faust, include the Verdi Requiem, under Giulini at the 1969 Festival.

Roles created

Gedda created parts in two operas; the Husband in Orff's Trionfo d'Aphrodite (La Scala 1953) and Anatol in Barber's Vanessa (New York Met 1958). The original cast of the latter was successfully recorded and remains an excellent account of the work.

Recordings

The list of Gedda's recordings is extensive, and he worked with the most eminent colleagues. Conductors include Beecham, Karajan, Klemperer and Giulini, while singers are of the calibre of Callas, De los Angeles, Schwarzkopf, Baker and Sills. His expressive use of English can be heard in Vanessa, as well as in Bernstein's own recording of Candide (as the Governor). He appears in two excellent oratorio recordings - Mendelssohn's Elijah, with Fischer-Dieskau, and Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.

His French recordings include Gluck (Alceste), Rossini (Guillaume Tell), Auber (Fra Diavolo), Berlioz (Benvenuto Cellini, La Damnation de Faust, L'enfance du Christ), Gounod (Faust), Bizet (Les pêcheurs de perles, Carmen), Offenbach (Les Contes d'Hoffmann) and Massenet (Manon, Werther, Thaïs, Cendrillon).

Viennese operetta features strongly, with many memorable performances. These include J Strauss (Die Fledermaus, Eine Nacht in Venedig, Wiener Blut); Lehár (Die lustige Witwe, Der Graf von Luxemburg, Der Zarewitsch, Das Land des Lächelns) and Kálmán (Die Czárdásfürstin, Gräfin Mariza).

Recordings of Russian operas seem surprisingly few - no doubt because such documents were rarely made in the West during the 'iron curtain' era.

  • The 1951 Boris Godunov was of the then-ubiquitous Rimsky-Korsakov edition, and Gedda later added the original Musorgsky version.
  • Gedda's only Tchaikovsky roles are in Eugene Onegin - not just Lensky, but also the character role of the tutor Triquet towards the end of his career.
  • Gedda appears on two important recordings in which the exiled cellist Mstislav Rostropovich conducts, with his wife Galina Vishnevskaya in the lead - as Sergei in Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and as Anatol Kuragin in Prokofiev's War and Peace.

Other performances documented include Mozart (Idomeneo, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, Die Zauberflöte); Weber (Euryanthe), Rossini (Il turco in Italia, Il barbiere di Siviglia); Bellini (I Capuleti e i Montecchi, I puritani); Flotow (Martha), Verdi (Rigoletto, La traviata, Requiem); Puccini (Madama Butterfly); Strauss (Der Rosenkavalier, Capriccio), Pfitzner (Palestrina) and Korngold (Das Wunder der Heliane).

© Copyright Opera Scotland 2017

Site by SiteBuddha