Verdi : RigolettoNew York, Met, 1973 (Audio)
Director: James Levine
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Weixell with Kiri Te Kanawa
Metropolitan Opera House.February 10, 1973 Matinee Broadcast
Duke of Mantua..........Luciano Pavarotti
Count Ceprano...........Louis Sgarro
Countess Ceprano........Betsy Norden
Giovanna................Batyah Godfrey Ben-David
The Swedish baritone Ingvar Wixell, enjoyed a long career in the world's major opera houses, covering much of the central repertory with distinction and making many recordings. An imposing figure on the stage, he was particularly renowned as Puccini's violent police chief Baron Scarpia, a role he played opposite 55 different Toscas. He also represented Sweden in the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest.
Wixell was born to a musical family in the northern Swedish city of Luleå, where he sang in a choir and played the viola in a local orchestra. He went on to study at the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in Stockholm, subsequently making his debut as Papageno in a touring production of The Magic Flute. In 1955 he joined the Swedish Royal Opera, remaining a member of the company until 1967, by which time his career had taken off internationally. His Covent Garden debut came in 1960 through a visit by the Swedish company, with which he sang Ruggiero in Handel's Alcina and a small role in Un Ballo in Maschera. Glyndebourne spotted him and cast him as Guglielmo in Così in 1962.
From 1967 he was a member of the company of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, which remained his artistic home for more than three decades. That same year he made his US debut in San Francisco as Belcore in L'Elisir d'Amore, returning regularly up to 1985.
Meanwhile he was chosen to sing the Swedish entry in the 1965 Eurovision contest, held in Naples. He came in 10th place, singing in English a song called Absent Friend (its Swedish title was Annorstädes Vals – Elsewhere Waltz), composed by Dag Wirén to lyrics by Alf Henrikson.
Wixell's operatic career initially focused on Mozartian and lyric roles; Don Giovanni was an early speciality. After a single season at Bayreuth in 1971, singing the Herald in Lohengrin, he began to take on the major Verdi and Puccini roles in leading international houses, where he remained a frequent guest throughout the 1970s and 80s. He debuted with the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in 1972 in the title role of Simon Boccanegra, returning as Scarpia in Tosca (which became his signature role), Belcore, Mandryka in Strauss's Arabella, Rigoletto, Amonasro in Aida and Falstaff, continuing his association with the house until 1990. The following year he appeared in an arena production of Tosca at Earls Court.
At the New York Met he began with Rigoletto in 1973, adding Boccanegra, Scarpia, Germont in La Traviata and Marcello in La Bohème, the Count of Luna in Il Trovatore and Amonasro, and making his final appearance there as the Ethiopian king in 1979. He was a regular visitor to Vienna, Munich and Salzburg, where a highlight was his creation of the role of Pentheus in Hans Werner Henze's The Bassarids in 1966.
His Verdian roles also included Don Carlo in La Forza del Destino and Renato in Un Ballo; in addition he was an admired exponent of Count Almaviva in Figaro, Pizarro in Fidelio and the title roles in Rossini's Barber of Seville and Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. In 1999 he dragged up for the travesty role of the outrageous stage mother Mamma Agata in a Stockholm production of Viva la Mamma!, a version of Donizetti's backstage comedy Le Convenienze ed Inconvenienze Teatrali, later commenting that the hardest part was getting used to high heels. He retired from the stage following a performance of the Music Master in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos in Malmö in 2003.
With a grand and, when necessary, menacing stage presence, Wixell became a considerable actor who seized the dramatic opportunities of such larger-than-life characters as Scarpia and Rigoletto. His vocal approach was equally lavish, though the subtlety heard on his early recordings of songs tended to coarsen over the years as a heavy workload took its toll.
He was a familiar name on major record labels from the 1970s onwards, setting down his interpretations of the Count in Figaro and Don Giovanni, as well as Scarpia, Renato and Marcello, all under Colin Davis. He sang the Count of Luna and Alfonso in Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia alongside Joan Sutherland and under Richard Bonynge, also taking part in Lamberto Gardelli's early Verdi series as Ezio in Attila and Count Belfiore in Un Giorno di Regno. His other recordings include Belcore under John Pritchard and Tonio in Pagliacci under Giuseppe Patanè. In Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's 1983 film of Rigoletto, he sang both the title-role and Monterone opposite Luciano Pavarotti's Duke.