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Nicolai Gedda in Opera
CD 1
Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875)

Les Pêcheurs de Perles
1. Je crois entendre encore [3:35]
Charles GOUNOD (1818 – 1893)

2. Le ciel rayonne … est-elle jeune et belle? [8:17]
3. Mon Coeur est plein … ah! La voici! C’est elle! [13:33]
Roméo et Juliette
4. L’amour! L’amour! … Ah! Lève-toi, soleil! [4:41]
5. Salut! Demeure chaste et pure [5:40]
6. Il était temps … Il se fait tard [15:09]
7. Va-t-en! … Mon Coeur est pénétré … Alerte! [13:34]
Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912)

8. Instant charmant … En ferment les yeux [3:21]
9. Pourquoi me réveiller [2:54]
François AUBER (1782 – 1871)

La muette de Portici
10. Du pauvre seul ami fidèle [4:32]
CD 2
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839 – 1881)

Boris Godunov
1. Polish scene, duet Dmitri and Marina [17:53]
Mikhail GLINKA (1804 – 1857)

Ruslan I Lyudmila
2. Excerpt from Introduction Act I [4:39]
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)

Eugene Onegin
3. Faint echo of my youth [6:21]
Friedrich von FLOTOW (1812 – 1883)

4. Ach, so fromm [3:26]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848)

5. Una furtiva lagrima [4:03]
La favorita
6. Favorita del Re! … Spirto gentil [5:22]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)

7. Ella mi fu rapita! … Parmi veder le lagrime [5:03]
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834 – 1886)

La Gioconda
8. Cielo e mar! [4:40]
Francesco CILEA (1866 – 1950)

9. E la solita storia [4:24]
Franz LEHÁR (1870 – 1948)

Die lustige Witwe
10. Mein Freund, Vernuft … Wie eine Rosenknospe [6:17]
Das Land des Lächelns
11. Immer nur lächeln [4:31]
12. Dein ist mein ganzes Herz [3:34]
Nicolai Gedda (tenor)
Janette Vivalda (soprano)(CD 1 trs. 2, 3); Madeleine Ignal (mezzo), André Vessieres (baritone)(CD 1 tr 3); Victoria de los Angeles (soprano), Boris Christoff (bass)(CD 1 trs. 6, 7); Eugenia Zareska (mezzo)(CD 2 tr. 1); Janine Micheau (soprano), Rita Gorr (mezzo), Pierre Fromenty (baritone), Xavier Depraz (bass)(CD 2 tr 2); Emmy Loose (soprano) (CD 2 tr. 10); Philharmonia Orchestra/Alceo Galliera (CD 1 tr. 1, 4, 8-10, CD 2 tr. 3-9), Otto Ackermann (CD 2 tr. 10-12); Orchestre de la Societé des Concerts du Conservatoire/André Cluytens (CD 1 tr. 2, 3); Orchestre du Thêatre National de l’Opera/André Cluytens (CD 1 tr. 5-7), Louis Fourestier (CD 2 tr. 2); Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française/Issay Dobrowen (CD 2 tr. 1)
rec. CD 1: tr. 1, 4, 8-10 April 1953, tr. 2-3 July 1954; CD 2: tr. 1 July 1952, tr. 2 June 1957, tr. 3-9 April 1953, tr. 10-12 November 1952

NIMBUS PRIMA VOCE NI 7943/44 [75:16 + 70:13]

Experience Classicsonline



On 6 June 1992, the Swedish National Day, Nicolai Gedda gave an opera recital at the Royal Opera with the Royal Orchestra conducted by Sixten Ehrling. The purpose was to celebrate his debut in the house forty years earlier. That debut, on 8 May 1952, caused a sensation. Here a tall, handsome young singer displays not only one of the most beautiful tenor voices imaginable but he was also capable of letting rip an effortless high D natural, which is required in Adam’s Le postillon de Lonjumeau. Rumour spread, Walter Legge of EMI came, listened, was won over and contracted him for the recording of Boris Godunov, which took place in Paris in July. Listening to the Polish scene from that recording (CD 2 tr. 1) one is stunned: what beauty, what brilliance, what confidence, what intensity! No wonder the opera houses queued up to engage the young Swede. Not only did he sing like a god, but he was also intelligent, had an almost infallible sense of style and he was an accomplished linguist, being fluent in Swedish, English, German (the family lived for several years in Germany during his formative years), Italian, Spanish and Russian (his stepfather Michail Ustinoff was Russian).

The Boris recording wasn’t even his first recording. He recorded the aria from Le postillon de Lonjumeau with the Swedish Radio Orchestra and Choir under Stig Rybrant, unclear when but supposedly quite soon after the premiere. There is however a live recording from the Royal Opera, made on 10 April 1952, two days after the premiere with Kurt Bendix conducting. It is available on CD on "Famous Swedish Opera Singers at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm" (Gala GL 333) and it is easy to understand the sensation. On every track on this 2 CD set all the attributes I expressed in the first paragraph are in full evidence, most of all perhaps his delectable half voice and his superb phrasing.

Why did I mention the recital in 1992? Because there he sang several of the arias he recorded at the beginning of his career and miraculously there were few signs of ageing. A little more effort once or twice, a slight hardening of tone at forte but he sang the Pearl Fishers aria with the same impeccable legato, the same delectable mezza voce, Una furtiva lagrima was as youthful and beautiful as here and Lenski’s aria was as heartrending and lovely as ever. The recital was seen as a celebration but also a retrospect on a truly successful career. Towards the end Gedda gave a speech to a standing audience that was charged with emotion and he ended the evening in the same way this set ends, with Dein ist mein ganzes Herz from The Land of Smiles. This operetta was very close to his heart and he sang in it and other operettas as well from 1959 to 1985, not least in many productions at the Vienna Volksoper. But his career was not over with this retrospect. He continued to sing – and record – and here I have to make an adjustment to Alan Bilgora’s liner-notes where he says that he was still recording in 1993. In fact he recorded well into the new millennium. In May 2001 he was the Emperor in Turandot and in June 2003 he was the High Priest in Idomeneo – both operas recorded by Chandos in their ‘Opera in English’ series. Today, at the age of 83 he lives in Switzerland.

The first disc is devoted entirely to French repertoire, where he was supreme during the 1950s and 1960s, even well into the 1970s. Leopold Simoneau and Alain Vanzo were not too far behind and Alfredo Kraus was also a French stylist but none of them had the brilliance and the dramatic power of Gedda. He was primarily a lyric tenor but his volume could be overpowering. Just listen to his ardent as well as mellifluous singing as Vincent in the two excerpts from Mireille, where the brilliance in the upper regions is stunning, unforced and never merely strong. The best known piece from the opera, Anges du Paradis, at the beginning of track 3, is exquisite, as always with great attention to nuance. His Mireille, Janette Vivalda, has a typical light and bright French soprano voice with a quick attractive vibrato.

As Roméo he is brilliant and vigorous and it is good to have more than half an hour of music from his first Faust recording, if I remember correctly set down in 1954. The booklet gives no year for these excerpts. Half a decade later EMI re-recorded the opera in stereo with the same conductor and the same trio of lead singers and that version has always been regarded as a top contender. To my mind Victoria de los Angeles is even lovelier here and her top notes have hardly ever rung out so freely and effortlessly. In the finale (CD1 tr. 7) she is truly ethereal. Boris Christoff’s larger-than-life Mephistofeles is certainly expressive and he is truly fiendish but his throaty delivery and execrable French make him less than idiomatic. Gedda shines in his aria (CD 1 tr. 5). Cluytens allows him finely judged rubatos where he caresses the sweet melody. The brilliant high C is integrated into the long drawn phrases and doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb as is often the case with less accomplished singers.

Gedda’s honeyed mezza voce singing of En ferment les yeux is subtle and the aria from Werther impassioned and intense. In a radio interview many years ago he rated Werther as one of his absolute favourite roles and opera-lovers obviously shared his affection. When Rudolf Bing chose Corelli instead of Gedda for the 1971 MET revival of the opera there were demonstrations: ‘Gedda for Werther!’

In the final French number, the aria from La muette de Portici, half voice is again employed to superb effect. His scrupulous attention to nuance includes a heavenly pianissimo on the final note.

Issay Dobrowen’s inspired and alert conducting is a big asset for the long scene from Boris Godunov, where Eugenia Zareska is an eminent Marina. The scene from Ruslan and Ludmila is another valuable example of Gedda’s excellence in Russian repertoire. The weak Lensky was another of his favourite roles that he continued to sing until very late and eventually recorded complete when he was well past 60. He sings it here softly and inwardly as an interior monologue.

Lyonel’s aria from Martha is sung in the original German, whereas most famous tenors have preferred the Italian text M’appari. Gedda sings it intimately and lovingly with no big gestures and saves his fortissimo for the brilliant end. In Una furtiva lagrima he challenges even the legendary Tito Schipa in style and caressing beauty and surpasses him in ardency and glorious tone. Spirto gentil is sung in Italian, as was common fifty years ago, and though Gedda’s voice character isn’t specifically Italianate this is one of the most thrilling and lyrical readings I know. He sang relatively few Verdi roles – he was an excellent Gustavus in Un ballo in maschera, and besides the Duke of Mantua he also appeared in La traviata. The latter two roles were recorded complete. Of Rigoletto there is even a live recording from the Stockholm opera – on BIS – with Sixten Ehrling conducting at white heat. On that set Hugo Hasslo is one of the noblest of Rigolettos and Margareta Hallin surpasses every other Gilda in the world, while Gedda is arguably too vivacious at times but certainly more spirited than most competitors. His amorous Duke from 1953 is seductive and virile and the aria proper Parmi veder le lagrime is honeyed and noble. An aristocrat knows how to behave – no bawling here.

The role of Enzo Grimaldo in La Gioconda was probably too heavy for Gedda to sing complete but he has no difficulties with the aria Cielo e mar – lyrical and beautiful, but there is no lack of vitality and he ends on a ravishing pianissimo. Few have sung E la solita storia so beautifully.

The three operetta bonbons are delicious and the duet from Die lustige Witwe, where he is partnered by the delectable Emmy Loose, has probably never been surpassed and challenged only by himself in the stereo remake from roughly ten years later.

Gedda was a splendid Mozart singer, especially during the first twenty years or so of his career, and I would have liked something from that repertoire. He recorded an LP of Mozart arias with Cluytens conducting in June 1957, and it is out of copyright by now so let’s hope for a volume 2 with Gedda. There is material aplenty, Gedda presumably being the most recorded tenor ever.

Alan Bilgora’s notes are well researched and interesting to read but I must take him to task for the first sentence: ‘Although not blessed with a highly individual, and therefore instantly recognisable vocal timbre like …’ and then follows a list of great tenors. To my mind Gedda is just as individual and instantly recognisable and he was certainly one of the most musical and most versatile tenors of the 20th century. For those who only know him from his prime in the 1960s and 1970s, these ‘early prime’ recordings should be essential listening. Even though much of this material has been available from time to time it is good to have it again – and in splendid transfers.

Göran Forsling




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