OP0052. BORIS GODOUNOV, recorded 1952, w.Dobrowen Cond. NRDF Ensemble; Boris Christoff, Nicolai Gedda, Kim Borg, Eugenia Zareska, etc. (Canada) 3-Naxos 8.110242/44. Transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn. Final Sealed Copy! - 636943124222
"This 1952 recording was the first of two in which bass Boris Christoff sang the roles of Boris, Varlaam, and Pimen, something that only could be managed on recordings, since Boris meets Pimen in the last act. Christoff’s voice and temperament were unique and unforgettable, and so one of the ways in which he differentiates the characters is to perform Pimen’s music at an almost consistent whisper. It works, and it’s very beautiful to boot. Varlaam, on the other hand, still sounds like Boris, just wackier. Anyone who doesn’t own a Boris Christoff performance of BORIS GODUNOV has a hole in his/her collection.
This production omits the St Basil Scene, but the Kromy Forest scene is complete. Part of Pimen’s monastery monolog is cut and the second part of the Polish act is omitted as well. This last is regrettable, since it makes us miss much of the role of Rangoni, atmospherically sung here by Kim Borg. Eugenia Zareska sings Marina lustily (she also sings Feodor and sounds entirely different), and her duet with the young Nicolai Gedda as the false Dmitri is the best on discs. In fact Gedda is remarkable throughout. There’s not a weak link in the cast, and Issay Dobrowen’s leadership is very exciting.
Precisely where they got the nasty cacophony of bells in the Coronation Scene is a mystery, and it’s a pity they aren’t recorded better–it’s a wonderful racket.... Christoff’s Boris is so towering that I’d recommend listening through mud to experience it. The Clock Scene is as terrifying as the Death Scene is tragic."
- Robert Levine
"...there is the beauty of the voice itself, black and majestic, but capable of melting to the warmest of velvet; a voice that can damn and bless within the same breath. Add to all this a magnificent sense of presence and in Boris Christoff we have a true mastersinger of our time."
- Michael Letchford, Liner Notes to HMV LP set
“Borg was engaged to sing the oily monk Rangoni to Christoff's Boris Godunov in Issay Dobrowen's ground-breaking recording of Mussorgsky's opera for EMI in 1952. Soon, Deutsche Grammophon was on his trail, and he made a number of recordings of opera, oratorio and song for the company during the following 10 years. Borg was much admired in Germany and, from 1965 to 1968, was a member of the Hamburg State Opera. But he was always welcome in his native Scandinavia, and from 1960 was a member of the Stockholm Opera, where his Scarpia was much praised in 1963. In 1971, he sang Fafner and Hagen in the company's performances of Wagner's RING. A year earlier, he sang Osmin at the Drottningholm festival, another histrionic triumph. He appeared in concerts at the Salzburg festival from 1956, singing Mozart, and in 1965-66 sang Pimen in Karajan's staging of BORIS GODUNOV.”
- Alan Blyth, THE GUARDIAN, 30 May, 2000
“Widely admired for his sensitive musicianship, masterly tonal control and impeccable diction in a spate of European languages, Mr. Gedda possessed a lyric tenor voice that shimmered like silver but was no less warm for that. He was one of the most versatile, and professionally long-lived, tenors of his era, with many dozens of roles to his name in a career that lasted until he was well into his 70s - a good two decades past a classical singer’s customary retirement age. Over a quarter-century, he sang 367 performances with the Metropolitan Opera, from his début in the title role of Gounod’s FAUST in 1957 to his final performance, as Alfredo in Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA, in 1983. But the role for which Mr. Gedda was very likely most famous was Russian: Lensky, the young poet in Tchaikovsky’s EUGENE ONEGIN. Reviewing Mr. Gedda in a concert performance of ONEGIN with the Boston Symphony in 1976, Richard Dyer wrote in The Boston Globe: ‘The tenor’s voicing of Lensky’s aria - an ideal union of responsiveness to word and musical line, a demonstration of vocal and technical mastery and varied and beautiful tone, and an expression of wise and generous human feeling - was a classic demonstration of why, for some of us at least, operatic singing is the highest achievement of human art’.
Mr. Gedda made his United States début in 1957, singing Faust with the Pittsburgh Opera. Reviewing his Met début, in the same role later that year, under the baton of Jean Morel, Howard Taubman wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES: ‘His carriage is tall and straight and his movement buoyant. It is credible that he will attract Marguerite. Even more impressive than his appearance is the intelligence of his singing’.
With the Met, he also sang Anatol in the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s VANESSA, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos, in 1958, and Kodanda in the United States premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti’s THE LAST SAVAGE, under Thomas Schippers, in 1964.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 10 Feb., 2017
“Of all the important tenors active during the latter half of the twentieth century, Nicolai Gedda was by far the most versatile and industrious, a questing musical spirit who left few areas of the operatic and song repertories unexplored. During a career that spanned nearly fifty years, Gedda was in demand the world over for the warm, sweet, silvery beauty of his voice, his patrician command of style, and an unshowy but dazzling technical virtuosity that was invariably in the service of the music.
Born to poor parents in Stockholm, Gedda was raised by his father’s sister and her Russian husband, a Don Cossack singer and cantor in a Russian orthodox church. It was from his strict stepfather that Gedda picked up his facility with languages and reading music - as well as an innate shyness and a distaste for confrontation that did not serve him well in later dealings with opera managements, not to mention two unhappy early marriages. The vocal rudiments were there from the beginning, however, and while he was working at his first job, as a bank teller, one of his helpful customers recommended a teacher - Carl-Martin Oehman, a former lyric tenor at Stockholm Opera and mentor of Jussi Björling.
Oehman, Gedda once recalled in his typically modest way, ‘taught me all the essentials, which I knew nothing about’. One can’t help thinking that the perfect vocal placement, firm muscular support, smooth register management and sovereign musical instincts were already present, just waiting to be coaxed out. Additional studies at Stockholm Conservatory lasted just two years before Gedda - in 1952, at age twenty-six - was given the leading role in Adam’s POSTILLON DE LONJUMEAU at the Royal Opera and created a sensation, especially with the brilliant high Ds that cap the coachman Chapelou’s famous entrance aria. Walter Legge, EMI’s legendary record impresario, and his wife, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, were in town and demanded to hear the new tenor everyone was raving about. After a short audition, Legge immediately fired off cables to conductor Herbert von Karajan and Antonio Ghiringhelli, the intendant of La Scala: ‘Just heard the greatest Mozart singer in my life: his name is Nicolai Gedda’.
What happened next would probably leave any young singer breathless. Gedda was instantly cast as Dimitri in EMI’s splashy new recording of BORIS GODUNOV, starring Boris Christoff (‘that BORIS recording opened the doors of the world to me’, Gedda once remarked), and he made a La Scala début as Don Ottavio in DON GIOVANNI under Karajan’s baton. Gedda suddenly had invitations to sing everywhere - Faust and Weber's Oberon in Paris, the Duke of Mantua at Covent Garden and dozens of other requests from Rome, Vienna, Salzburg, Berlin, Munich and Tokyo.
Meanwhile Legge kept Gedda busy in the recording studios after BORIS with Bach’s b-minor Mass under Karajan, rarities such as Cornelius’ BARBIER VON BAGHDAD and the French version of Gluck’s ORPHÉE, Strauss’ CAPRICCIO, Pinkerton in MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Faust, as well as solo recitals covering a wide range of repertory. One of the most impressive examples I know of the young Gedda on disc, at age twenty-eight, is Lehár’s LAND DES LÄCHELNS, in which he sings the mysterious yet passion-driven Prince Sou-Chong, a role made famous by Richard Tauber. It’s a ravishing piece of singing, delicately shaded and exquisitely controlled until all the character’s banked-up emotions come tumbling out in a glorious rendition of the Tauberlied, ‘Dein ist mein ganzes Herz’. Even here, vocal connoisseurs will marvel at the singer’s technical control when Gedda eases into the reprise of the big tune without so much as drawing a breath.
Rudolf Bing snapped up Gedda early on (an unusual move by this canny impresario, who usually liked to keep Metropolitan Opera audiences expectantly waiting, even for the most sensational new discoveries), and Gedda made his Met début on 1 November, 1957, as Faust. Thereafter the tenor, like so many important singers of his generation, tended to base himself in New York, while reserving plenty of time to fulfill engagements in Europe and make hundreds of recordings. So New York heard Gedda display the full range of his vocal talents and language facility until he left the company in 1983 - classic roles (Don Ottavio, Admèto in ALCESTE), standard repertory (the Duke, Alfredo, Rodolfo, Pinkerton, Edgardo), French specialties (Hoffmann, Don José, des Grieux, Pelléas, Roméo), bel canto (LA SONNAMBULA, L’ELISIR D’AMORE, DON PASQUALE), Russian roles (Dmitri, Lenski, Gherman), new American opera (VANESSA and THE LAST SAVAGE) and even a touch of operetta (Johann Strauss’s GYPSY BARON). Gedda never generated the hysterical fan response of, say, Franco Corelli, but few left his finely nuanced, vocally secure, emotionally generous performances feeling cheated.
Gedda wound down his career slowly during the 1990s, giving concerts, teaching and taking on occasional character roles, such as the ancient Abdisu, Patriarch of Assyria, in Covent Garden’s 1997 production of Pfitzner’s PALESTRINA. He also finally found marital contentment in 1997 with Aino Sellermark, who collaborated with Gedda on his memoirs, MY LIFE—MY ART. The couple settled in what appeared to be an idyllic retirement in Tolochenaz, a Swiss villa, where Gedda could take pride in recalling an extraordinarily productive career that had made him one of the most admired and widely heard tenors of his generation. Gedda died 8 January, 2017, aged 91.”
- Peter G. Davis, OPERA NEWS, 9 Feb., 2017