After some introductory vocal study with Carl Martin Öhman, a Wagnerian tenor from the 1920s, Gedda—as characteristically happens—drew almost immediate attention to himself. His voice was large for a lyric tenor, and he always had an amazing and utterly reliable top, capable of singing above high C. After understudying Giuseppe di Stefano at the Edinburgh Festival around 1951, he debuted with the royal Swedish Opera in Adam's Le Postillon de Lonjumeau, where he had ample opportunity to display his very high voice. He attracted the attention of von Karajan in 1953, and his La Scala debut took place in 1953. The role was Don Ottavio, and Gedda quickly became identified as an absolutely superb Mozart tenor. After la Scala came the Paris Opera in 1954 and the Met in 1957. By then, the career was international, and was to become one of the great careers in opera. He was at the Met for 26 years, and performed 28 roles there, including all the famous "bread and butter roles." People often mistakenly think of him primarily in terms of the French repertoire, but in fact his repertoire was very broad, including the big Italian roles and Russian roles as well.
I think the first thing that merits listening to is his "Il Mio Tesoro" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. A well known New York opera coach once told me something that I have never forgotten: "Everybody likes the big Mozart tenor arias, like "Il mio tesoro," but they don't want to hear them sung by a church tenor." So very true! This is where Gedda shone. He sings this Mozart aria with the same verbal gusto he would use to sing arias from the standard Italian or French repertoire. The result is one of the most viril renderings of the aria ever recorded, while remaining true to Mozart and to the essential stylistics and musicality of the piece:
That is an "Il mio tesoro" to be proud of! The audience response at the end of this tape, which is a live Met performance, tells the story. It is one of the most enthusiastic applaudings of the piece that I have ever heard. I heard him in concert, in 1961, sing this aria, and I was stunned by the amount of voice he put into it. His was a big voice, and he made it work beautifully in Mozart. It was stunning. I have never forgotten it!
This does not mean that Gedda always sang lyric arias with great vocal energy—not at all. Here is an exemplary "Je crois entendre encore:"
Isn't that just beautiful! This is Gedda in a characteristic French mode that became something of a calling card for him. It is perhaps because of singing like this, in French, that he developed the reputation of being something like a French tenor. He was not, of course, but he did handle the language beautifully, and his elegance and sense of style—coupled with an innate musicality—contributed considerably to that notion.
Finally, an aria not commonly asociated with Gedda, but one which he sings very well indeed. The great perennial favorite "A te, o cara," here recorded at La Scala, where he was quite popular. He sings it beautifully, and it provides a good vehicle for his high voice, which—considering its size—was somewhat miraculous. (I can testify to the size of the voice!) Notice that he sings it in the original key, so the high note is a C#. Gedda was at home, however, in this stratospheric range:
And there you have it! A great tenor, a great stylist, a very reliable, very high tenor voice, always under control. For many people, and all things considered, this was a tenor for the ages!