NICOLAI GEDDA (1925 -2017)


Nicola Gedda as Nemorino one of his signature roles

His daughter, Tania, announced the death of Nicolai Gedda on January 8 at his residence near Lausanne, Switzerland. His death occurred a few months after that of his first wife, the pianist Nadia Gedda-Nova – Tania’s mother – and a few days after that of Georges Prêtre with whom he collaborated several times, notably as Don José in the recording of Carmen alongside Maria Callas.

How to evoke the career of Nicolai Gedda without using superlatives? ” Writes Antoine Brunetto in his tenor encyclopedia, “we can begin by quoting an exceptional longevity: born in 1925, he was still singing at the dawn of the twenty-first century! One can not pass over in silence a variety of impressive repertoire … Finally, Nicolai Gedda holds a record almost unbeatable: that of the number of official recordings.”

These recordings testify today to the universal art of one of the greatest tenors of the twentieth century.

Seen and Heard International sends its condolences to Nicolai Gedda’s family.

An extract from Ian Lace’s 2000 review of Nicolai Gedda’s book My Life and Art which is still available

‘Some of the most interesting chapters in the book are those dealing with Gedda’s impressions of his fellow artists. He did not get on at all well with Herbert Von Karajan. Because of his shyness, acting did not come naturally to Gedda and he had to work hard at the craft, on one occasion early in his career, he remembers, “Karajan made sure to point out my weaknesses in full public view. When he saw my miserable acting on the stage he was there quick as a flash with his bullying tactics. He did it in as hurtful a way as possible” Later, still talking about Karajan, Gedda remarks, “…our personal chemistry was utterly incompatible. If I did not go along with everything he suggested he became intensely angry. Karajan was never an easy person to deal with. He was extraordinarily egocentric. He always saw himself as the great star, beside whom there were no others. With Karajan you were there because you contributed to making his concerts and operas better. Karajan never saw the singers as living individuals but only as cogs in the machinery of his own music-making. He never passed an opportunity to humiliate a singer or a member of the orchestra. Later in life I came to the conclusion that Karajan was not a good conductor. What I learned from him was musical flow and style, but it was so tiresome to live with the stringency that he demanded at all times…He was cold, impersonal, power hungry and unpleasant.”

Gedda also thought Boris Christoff was “a difficult and pretentious man” while Victoria de los Angeles was “a gentle, quiet, angel, happy and kind-hearted.” Dimitri Mitropoulos “gave the impression of being a deeply religious man and lived like a monk.” Of Tito Schipa, Gedda reflects, “Schipa was an Italian tenor, a contemporary of Gigli, and although Gigli had a much more beautiful voice, the way Schipa handled his voice was astonishing. He also sang with exquisite taste and style, and later in life I came to think even more highly of Schipa than Gigli.” Mirella Freni he recalls as “a young and absolutely delightful performer and Gedda remembers that “…when I saw Maria Callas [singing in La traviata at the Met] I was so deeply affected by the intensity of her performance that I sobbed.” ‘

For Ian Lace’s full book review click here.

For more about Nicola Gedda visit his wikipedia pages.

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  1. Jack Buckley says:

    Back in the nineteen-nineties Nicola Gedda gave a recital with piano at Rome’s Teatro Ghione. Most of us had assumed he had retired. He sang with perfect diction in French, Russian, Norwegian, English and Italian (including some operatic arias). What was simply amazing was the security and richness of the voice; as fresh as it had always been. Even he looked surprised at what his voice was still giving! When I talked to him after the concert with the happy realisation that his technique was as solid as ever, I said, “Mr Gedda, you will sing for ever”. He smiled, “Well maybe not for ever” he said. When I inquired how he had obtained this technique he spoke of the teaching of a Russian woman (sorry, forgotten the name) in New York “She set me and George London on the right path” he added.

    • Jim Pritchard says:

      A wonderful memory Jack and thank you for sharing it. My highlight was hearing him sing Nemorino at Covent Garden in 1981 and – if my memory serves me right – he encored ‘Una furtiva lagrima’.

      • Jack Buckley says:

        The encore would have been typical of him, Jim: generosity poured out of the man, whether in performance or conversation, he gave you himself. I think there were four encores at the Ghione recital. How that contrasts with Maria Callas, with whom he frequently sang. I never heard Callas live but while she was making the film of ‘Medea’ with Pier Paolo Pasolini, he invited me to lunch with her, where she had a nasty little lap dog she called Gedda. Pier Paolo warned me not to laugh. But of course I did. And he knew I would. The diva was unexpectedly friendly and polite. But then, she was of a mind with Pier Paolo. So was the rest of the world except for the few fanatics that later murdered him.

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