One of the most popular tenors of the 1960s and 1970s, Nicolai Gedda had an extraordinary array of successful recordings in both the Romantic and modern operatic repertories, as well as in light opera and operetta. Fluent in seven languages, he was equally well-regarded for his roles in English, French, German, and Russian opera.
The son of a Russian singer father (family name Ustinoff) and a Swedish mother, he chose his mother's maiden name as his professional name. Gedda studied music in Leipzig, where his father was choirmaster of the Russian Orthodox Church, until 1934, when the family moved to Stockholm. He began singing in the Russian church, and in 1950, after completing his mandatory military service, he continued his lessons and won the Christine Nilsson Singing Competition. He studied at the Stockholm Conservatory and made his debut with the Stockholm Opera in 1952. Acclaimed from that first performance, he made his debut at La Scala in Milan during the 1952-1953 season, and made appearances as a concert artist during that period. Debuts with the Paris Opera and Covent Garden in London followed very quickly, and beginning in 1957 he became a perennial favorite of audiences at New York's Metropolitan Opera as well, creating the role of Anatole in Samuel Barber's Vanessa in 1958. The role he became most closely identified with throughout the '60s and '70s was Benvenuto Cellini in Berlioz's opera of that title, which he recorded in 1976. His recorded repertory also includes The Barber of Seville, The Damnation of Faust, Carmen, La Boheme, Werther, Die Fledermaus, Rosenkavalier, Rigoletto, Cosi Fan Tutte, and such unusual works as Hans Pfitzner's Palestrina, as well as such lighter repertory as Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow, The Land of Smiles, and Paganini. ~ Bruce Eder