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Nicolai Gedda as Lensky in Eugene Onegin.

The Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda (born July 11, 1925) is a famous opera singer and recitalist. Having made some two hundred recordings, Gedda is said to be the most widely recorded tenor in history. Gedda's singing is best known for his beauty of tone, vocal control, and musical perception.[1]



Nicolai Harry Gustav Gedda (gedda [written as 'gädda'] means 'pike' in Swedish) was born in Stockholm to a German mother and a half-Russian father. Gedda was raised by his aunt Olga Gedda and his adopted father Mikhail Ustinoff (a distant relative of Peter Ustinov), who sang bass in a Cossack choir and was cantor in a Russian Orthodox church.[2] Gedda grew up bilingual in Swedish and Russian. From 1929 to 1934 they lived in Leipzig where young Nicolai learned German. They returned to Sweden after Hitler came to power. In school he learned later English, French and Latin. After leaving school he learned Italian by himself.

Gedda began his professional career as a bank teller in a local bank in Stockholm. One day he told a client that he was searching for a good singing teacher and the client recommended Carl Martin Öhman, a well known Wagnerian tenor from the 1920s who is also credited with discovering one of the world's famous tenors, Jussi Björling. Later he was teaching also the great Finnish bass Martti Talvela. Öhman was enthusiastic about Gedda and took him as a pupil, at the beginning without payment, because Gedda had to support his parents with his pay. After a few months he obtained a scholarship and was later able to pay for Öhman's lectures.

Opera career

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.

"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."[3]

He was understudy to Giuseppe Di Stefano at a performance of L'elisir d'amore at the Edinburgh Festival circa 1951.

In April 1952, at the age of 26, Gedda made his debut at the Royal Swedish Opera, performing the role of Chapelou in Adolphe Adam's Le postillon de Lonjumeau. One of the arias in this opera, "Mes amis, écoutez l'histoire", is considered one of the most difficult tenor arias in all of opera, as it calls for several high Ds from the soloist. In this same year Gedda also performed the role of Hoffmann in Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann and the tenor role in Der Rosenkavalier.

After an audition in Stockholm, Gedda gained the attention of conductor Herbert von Karajan, who took him to Italy. In 1953, he made his début at La Scala as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni. In 1954, he made his Paris Opera debut in the tenor role in Weber's Oberon, and was given a permanent contract for several years. In 1957, Gedda made his Metropolitan Opera début in the title role of Gounod's Faust, and went on to sing 28 roles there over the next 26 years, including the world premieres of Barber's Vanessa and Menotti's The Last Savage. Gedda made his Royal Opera House Covent Garden début in 1954 as the Duke of Mantua in Verdi's Rigoletto and has since returned to sing Benvenuto Cellini, Alfredo, Gustavus III, Nemorino and Lensky.

Gedda's recordings span a wide variety of styles and several of the roles may be considered amongst the most challenging in the entire operatic repertoire, notably Arnoldo in Rossini's Guglielmo Tell and Arturo in I puritani, both requiring stratospheric high-notes and an easy legato line.

A singer of unusual longevity, Gedda has been 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

In addition to his opera performances, Gedda cultivated an active parallel career as a recitalist, with a large repertoire of French, German, Scandinavian, and Russian art songs. As an interpreter of lieder he often performed with the pianist Sebastian Peschko. Gedda's language skills, intellectualism and intense musicality, as well as his extensive recordings, have rendered him particularly indispensable in this genre.[4] Gedda has also taught and former students include Daryl Simpson of the Celtic Tenors[5]


In 1965 he became Swedish Court Singer, and in 1966 a member of the Swedish Academy of Music. Also in 1966 he received K.u.K ( Kaiser und König) award for singing.In 1968 he was decorated with the Order "Litteris et artibus." In 1976 he got the golden Nobel medal and in 2007 he received Caruso prize.

Nicolai 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.[6]


He published his first memoirs, "Gåvan är inte gratis" (A gift is not free of charge) 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.


  1. ^ Warrack, John and Ewan West (1996). "Nicolai Gedda." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera. (3rd Ed.), Oxford University.
  2. ^ Nicolai Gedda Homepage
  3. ^ Legge, Walter (1998). Walter Legge: Words and Music. Routledge (UK), pg. 204-05. ISBN 0415921082.
  4. ^ Miller, Richard (2003) Solutions for Singers: Tools for Every Performer and Teacher. Oxford University Press, pg. 118. ISBN 0195160053. ("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.")
  5. ^ see
  6. ^ "Honorary Members of the Royal Academy of Music (Oct.14, 2009)". Royal Academy of Music. 14 October 2009. Retrieved 14 October 2009.  

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