The Swedish tenor, whose career spanned more than half a century, has died aged 91.

Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda, whose international opera career stretched from his debut in 1951 through to his retirement 2003, has died at the age of 91. The tenor was one of the giants of opera in the 20th century, appearing in more than 200 recordings and collaborating with artists such as Maria Callas, Herbert von Karajan, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jessye Norman.

Gedda worked at a bank before deciding to pursue a career as a singer. He studied with Carl Martin Oehman and at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm before making his debut in 1951 at the Swedish Royal Opera in the premiere of Swiss composer Heinrich Sutermeister’s Der rote Stiefel. Two years later Gedda made his La Scala debut as Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni before creating the role of the Groom in Carl Orff’s Il Trionfo di Afrodite, under the baton of Karajan, at the same theatre. This was followed by debuts for Paris Opéra, Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, with which he sang for 22 seasons.

Gedda had a talent for languages, speaking and singing in French, Russian, German, Italian, English, Czech, and Swedish, to name just a few.

He collaborated several times with Georges Prêtre – who died in January – notably as Don José alongside Maria Callas’ Carmen. He continued to record well into his 70s, and right up to his retirement in 2003, singing Emperor Altoum in the 2002 Chandos recording of Puccini’s Turandot and the High Priest in Mozart’s Idomeneo, released in 2004.

In their biography of Gedda, critics Harold Rosenthal and Alan Blyth praised Gedda’s “plaintive yet virile quality of his tone and his sure, instinctive understanding of the style needed for different genres.”

Gedda was awarded the Swedish royal medal Litteris et Artibus in 1968, the Gold Medal for the Promotion of the Art of Music from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1976, the Caruso prize in 2007 and the French Légion d’honneur in 2010. He published his memoirs, Gåvan är inte gratis (The gift is not free) in 1978, written with the help of his future third wife Aino Sellermark, with whom he later collaborated on an autobiography, Nicola Gedda: My Life and Art.

In May 2015 several sources – including Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc – erroneously reported the singer’s death.

Gedda’s daughter reported the tenor’s death, on January 8 in his home near Lausanne in Switzerland.