ORFEO International


February 2017

† Nicolai Gedda

Born in Stockholm in 1925 to a Russian choir director and a Swedish mother, Nicolai Gedda can safely be named – alongside Enrico Caruso, Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, Nicolai Gedda
Nicolai Gedda
Foto: Archiv der Salzburger Festspiele
and perhaps comparable only to these – as one of the great lyric tenors of the twentieth century. But unlike these colleagues – except for Domingo – he was also amazingly versatile, singing unaccented in several languages and yet always aware of his vocal and theatrical limits. He sang a single performance (documented on CD) as Lohengrin, in Stockholm on January 29, 1966, but never made further moves towards the dramatic fach.
Instead Gedda was invariably a generous, elegant stylist, not least in French repertoire. As a singer, he possessed – as Jürgen Kesting has justly remarked – a “chaste instrument”, which may shine with a young man’s brightness but could never be called sensually erotic. Elsewhere Gedda released notable studio recordings; in 1954 he was Don Narciso (“Il Turco in Italia”), a year later Pinkerton (“Madama Butterfly”) and in 1964 Don José (“Carmen”) with Maria Callas as Fiorilla, Butterfly and Carmen; with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf at his side, he made exquisite operetta recordings.
For Orfeo International, on the other hand, he delivered great live interpretations: hot on the heels of the New York studio recording at the time of the premiere on January 15, 1958, a performance of Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa” recorded live at Salzburg with an almost identical cast; a wonderful “Traviata” from the Vienna State Opera with Ileana Cotrubas under the baton of Josef Krips (1971), a legendary performance if ever there was one; and the fine Munich live documentation of a concert performance of Claude Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” made the same year with Helen Donath as his opposite number under the direction of Rafael Kubelik.
Nor should we forget later studio recordings of rarities like Christoph Willibald Gluck’s “Alceste” (1982) at the side of Jessye Norman and Hector Berlioz’s “Roméo et Juliette” (1983) with Brigitte Fassbaender. As a Lieder singer too, Nicolai Gedda is prominent on Orfeo in recordings from Salzburg (1959) and at broadcaster NDR in Hanover (1964). In each case, Gedda delivers a bold, bright and highly original programme. In Salzburg the adventurous mix ranges from Piccinni to Russians Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninov, Mussorgsky and Shostakovich on the one hand and to French composers Franck, Debussy and Fauré on the other, not forgetting the Italians Falconieri, Respighi and Pratella. At North German Radio, the programme extended from Bach cantata arias – with flautist Aurèle Nicolet – and highly sensitive readings of rare Schubert by way of sparkling Strauss, Poulenc and Fauré to the many-faceted opalescence of Hermann Reutter’s “Epitaph for a poet, Faulkner”, with the congenial composer as his accompanist at the concert grand for this premiere performance.

As has just been announced, Nicolai Gedda died near Lausanne on January 8, 2017, at the age of ninety-one.