The Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda had an almost perfect voice: silky and stylish in the middle register, with a heroic top that stretched effortlessly up to high D. His gift for languages - seven in all - lent his singing enviable authenticity in a wide variety of repertoire. Gedda was a natural cosmopolitan. His mother was Swedish and his father half Russian. He spent his early years in Germany and when the family returned to Stockholm in 1934, Nicolai taught himself Italian. Banking was his original career choice, but this was abruptly abandoned when he was awarded a scholarship to study singing.
Record producer Walter Legge 'found' Gedda while auditioning in Stockholm. The tenor had 'sung only once in public', Legge recalled in his memoirs. But 'he sang the Carmen "Flower Song" so tenderly yet passionately that I was moved almost to tears'. In 1951, Gedda made his professional debut, in the premiere of Sutermeister's Der rote Stiefel at the Royal Swedish Opera. Within a decade he had become one of the most admired tenors in the world both as a recitalist and on stage. He became a regular visitor to Covent Garden, Paris Opéra, La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera, New York, for whom he created the role of Anatol in Samuel Barber's Vanessa.
There can be no doubting the beauty of Gedda's voice, his intelligence as a singer or the consummate professionalism he brought to every performance. But he also benefited from the good fortune of working at the dawn of the age of the long playing record. With over a hundred recordings to his credit, he reached a huge international audience and met a growing demand for top quality opera singing on disc. Yet Gedda believes that his career came at the end of a particular tradition. The support and training that he received as a student allowed him to develop a solid technique. 'When I started my career everything was different, everything was easier,' he once told an interviewer. 'There is [now] a great dearth of singing teachers; the old school has almost disappeared.'