The Swedish singer, Nicolai (Harry Gustav) Gedda (real name: Ustinov)2 [born: Harry Gustaf Nikolaj Gädda3], was one of the most knowledgeable of tenors. Gedda was his mother's name, which he assumed in his professional life. His father was a Russian, who went to Sweden after the Civil War. He began his professional career as a bank teller in a local bank in Stockholm. One day a wealthy client overheard him speaking about his desire to sing professionally, and offered to pay for his tuition to study with Karl Martin Oehmann - a well known Wagnerian tenor of the late 1920's. He studied at the Opera School at the Stockholm Conservatory.
In April 1952, at the age of 27, Nicolai Gedda had made his operatic debut at the Stockholm Opera in Stockholm, performing the role of Chapelou in Adolphe Adam's Le Postillon di Langjumeau. In this same year he also performed the role of Nicklaus in Offenbach's Le Contes d'Hoffman and the tenor role in Der Rosenkavalier. After an audition in Stockholm, he gained the attention of conductor Herbert von Karajan, who took him along to Italy - promoting him both in concerts and opera performances throughout Rome, Turin, and Milan. In 1953 he made his debut at La Scala in Milan. In 1954, he made also his Paris Opera debut with the tenor role in Weber's Oberon. Later that same year he sang Faust at the same Opera House. In Paris, he had a permanent engagement with the Opera for several years, and was regarded as the leading interpreter of W.A. Mozart and the French repertoire.
Later that same year, Nicolai Gedda made his solo appearance at Covent Garden in London as the Duke of Mantua, and gained recognition in Salzburg performing the tenor roles in W.A. Mozart's Don Giovanni, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and Cosi fan Tutte under the baton of Karl Böhm. In 1957 he sang Don José in Georges Bizet's Carmen at the Vienna State Opera. In April 1957, He made his USA debut with the title role in Charles Gounod's Faust with the Pittsburgh Opera. His Metropolitan Opera in New York debut followed in November 1957, with the same role. One year later, in January 1958, he created the role of Anatol in the premiere of Samuel Barber's Vanessa. This role was written specifically for him.
Having a Swedish mother, a Russian father, and studying voice with two internationally known singers, Gedda is well versed in a number of languages from Italian, German, French, English, Latin, Hebrew, Pan-Scandinavian, and of course, his native tongues of Russian and Swedish. He had natural fluency in Russian and his acquired knowledge of other languages enabled him singing with total freedom the entire standard operatic repertoire. His bright and expressive voice makes him well akin to a number operatic roles. He is one of the few tenors who are able to boast of longevity of their singing career. He attributes his abilities to extreme dedication and discipline, and to a healthy technique taught to him by international teacher Paola Novikova.
Nicolai Gedda's lyrical style and suppleness of tone was especially apparent during the 1960's, when he began a series of Lieder recitals ranging from Dupac and Francis Poulenc, Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninov, to a wide variety of Scandinavian and German composers. His confident tone, rich in expression and flexibility made the German Lieder an especially fine choice for performance. His five Lieder recitals at the world renown Salzburg Festival were particularly well received, and won him much acclaim. In 1980 and 1981 he made highly successful appearances in Russia, both in opera and on the concert stage. In 1986 he made his London recital debut. In 1991 he appeared as Christian II in a revival of Naumann's Gustaf Wasa in Stockholm.
Nicolai Gedda can be heard in over 200 recordings, and is still considered a strong performer for his age. His memoirs were published as Gåvan ar inte gratis (Stockholm, 1978).