Gedda was one of that group of Swedish singers – along with Birgit Nilsson, Elisabeth Söderström, Kerstin Meyer and Ragnar Ulfung – who made an extraordinary impact on the world of opera in the 1950s. Gedda’s repertory includes songs and arias in a dozen languages, and the length of his career –
Gedda was one of that group of Swedish singers – along with Birgit Nilsson, Elisabeth Söderström, Kerstin Meyer and Ragnar Ulfung – who made an extraordinary impact on the world of opera in the 1950s. Gedda’s repertory includes songs and arias in a dozen languages, and the length of his career – he made his debut in 1951 and was still giving concerts at the beginning of the new century – is a tribute to his phenomenal technique.
Gedda was born in Stockholm, but his earliest musical training was in Leipzig, where his adoptive father held a position as choirmaster in the Russian émigré church. After the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933, the family returned to Sweden, where Gedda eventually entered the Royal Academy of Music. It was while he was still studying at the Royal Academy that Gedda began to take small roles in productions at the Stockholm Opera.
Gedda made his professional solo debut on 8 April 1952 in the demanding role of Chapelou in a new production of Adam’s Le Postillon de Lonjumeau. The performance was a huge personal success, and within months Gedda was offered a contract to make his debut at La Scala, Milan, as Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, to be conducted by Herbert von Karajan, and he was contracted for his first recording, as Dimitri in Boris Godunov. This, the first-ever complete recording of Mussorgsky’s opera, laid the foundation for Gedda’s international
reputation, and was the beginning of his lasting association with EMI, now Warner Classics.
Late in 1952 he was teamed in the recording studio for the first time with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, in Lehár’s Die lustige Witwe and Das Land des Lächelns, with Otto Ackermann conducting, and these classic sets became the start of a long succession of operetta recordings that brought Gedda a wider public.
Gedda made his debut at the Paris Opéra in February 1954 as Huon in Weber’s Oberon. Later the same year came his first Duke in Rigoletto at Covent Garden, and that summer he sang Belmonte in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Aix-en-Provence. The same role served
for his debut at the Salzburg Festival in 1957, and later that year came his first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera (where he was to
sing for 24 years), in the title role of Gounod’s Faust, a role he was to sing more than 40 times with the company, as well as in productions in Geneva, Vienna, Milan, Budapest, Buenos Aires, Rome and Paris.
Bel canto and verismo also gave Gedda different opportunities. His Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore was a welcome chance for comedy, and in this, as well as Puccini’s La bohème, he found one of his most congenial colleagues in Mirella Freni. Gedda sang with nearly all the great prima donnas of his time, from Nilsson, Callas and Sutherland to Freni, Caballé and Sills, but it was his partnership with Victoria de los Angeles that many listeners will remember with special affection. In performances on stage at the Met, or in the recording studio, Gedda and De los Angeles seemed to form a dream team. As late as 1993 they appeared together in a series of recitals, and the years seemed to slip away as they struck sparks off each other in music both rare and familiar.
In his song repertory, Gedda’s range is similarly adventurous, equally at home in German Lieder, French melodies and Russian songs, as well as those of Scandinavia, Spain and Italy.