Swedish opera star Nicolai Gedda dies aged 91

Swedish opera singer Nicolai Gedda at this home in Stockholm on Feb 22, 2001.
Swedish opera singer Nicolai Gedda at this home in Stockholm on Feb 22, 2001. PHOTO: AFP

STOCKHOLM (AFP) - Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda, whose superb vocal control made him a star on the international opera scene for half a century, has died at 91, his entourage said Friday (Feb 10).

He died on Jan 8 after a heart attack at his home in Tolochenaz, Switzerland, his daughter told the French magazine Forum Opera on Thursday (Feb 9) night.

She had kept his death secret for a month, the magazine added.

The Royal Swedish Opera and the mayor of Tolochenaz, just outside Lausanne, confirmed his death to AFP.

With a diverse repertoire and an exceptionally long career, Gedda was one of the opera greats of the 20th century, alongside stars such as Maria Callas, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

"He had an amazing lyrical and elegant voice and he was especially distinguished within the French opera," Royal Swedish Opera spokesman Torbjorn Eriksson told AFP.

He was also admired for his deep musical intelligence, performing in French, Russian, German, Italian, English, Czech and Swedish.

Gedda was born in Stockholm on July 11, 1925 to a working-class Swedish mother and a half-Russian father.

His parents later abandoned him, and he was raised by his aunt and her Russian husband, a singer, who introduced him to music and language training.

Gedda did not know he had been abandoned by his biological parents until he was 17.

After being trained by the renowned Swedish tenor Carl Martin Ohman, Gedda had his breakout role when he was 26, in a 1952 Royal Swedish Opera production of The Postillion of Lonjumeau, which has one of the most difficult tenor arias.

His performance caught the attention of the Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan, and by the following year he was appearing at the Paris Opera and the Royal Opera House in London.

In 1957, Gedda held his first performance at the Salzburg Festival in The Abduction of the Seraglio. He performed in Faust at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York the same year.

Immensely popular among opera fans, Gedda sang more than 350 times at the Metropolitan Opera House between 1957 and 1983, performing all of the great French, Italian, Russian and Czech masterpieces.

Active into his late 70s, he also recorded the role of Emperor Altoum in Puccini's "Turandot" in 2001 and the role of a high priest in Mozart's "Idomeneo" in June 2003.

In 1994, the Royal Academy of Music in London made Gedda an honorary member, and in 2010 France gave him the Legion of Honour, the nation's most prestigious decoration.

He spent his last years with his wife in Switzerland.