One of the most imposing Wagnerian basses of the twentieth century, Ivar Andrésen sang in many of the world's major opera centers. A true bass, his massive, yet beautiful voice commanded attention even when his interpretations and movement tended toward the phlegmatic. His appearances in London and New York and at the Bayreuth Festival were celebrated and his early death represented a significant loss to several opera houses. Many of his numerous recordings are still regarded as definitive, both in the Wagnerian repertory and elsewhere.
After vocal and theatrical studies in Stockholm, Ivar Andrésen made his operatic debut at the Royal Opera in Stockholm in 1919 in the role of the King in Verdi's Aida. Soon, he was engaged by the Dresden Opera where he rapidly gained an enviable reputation for his interpretations of the great Wagnerian bass roles. In 1925, he became a member of the Berlin State Opera. Andrésen made his debut at London's Covent Garden in the April to July 1928 Grand Opera season. He sang in Götterdämmerung, Die Meistersinger, Tannhäuser, and Die Walküre and was deemed "a worthy antagonist" to the Brünnhilde of Frida Leider in the first-named of these works. In Tannhäuser, Andrésen was singled out for having "made much of the Landgrave." In 1929, Andrésen was back in London alternating with Alexander Kipnis as Hagen, Pogner in Meistersinger and King Marke in Tristan und Isolde, and undertaking the entire run of King Heinrichs in Lohengrin. His third year at Covent Garden once more presented his Hagen and Hunding, while 1931 (his final season there) saw him returning as Hagen, Heinrich, King Marke, and Hunding. In addition, he was heard for the first time in a non-Wagnerian role, essaying Sarastro in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte under the leadership of Bruno Walter. In 1935, he repeated his magisterial Sarastro at the Glyndebourne Festival, and added Osmin to his season there.
Andrésen's engagement at Bayreuth extended from 1927 to 1936. With performances as King Marke, Fasolt, the Landgrave, Gurnemanz, and Pogner, he made sufficient impact to win for himself the title of Kammersänger, an honor reserved for the most prestigious artists. In 1930 and 1931, Andrésen appeared at Bayreuth under the baton of Arturo Toscanini in what were hailed as defining performances. A complete recording (albeit with numerous cuts) of the Tannhäuser production was made, but with Karl Elmendorff replacing the Italian conductor. While preserving Andrésen's granitic Landgrave, the recording also captured in their respective primes Maria Müller as Elisabeth and the incomparable Herbert Janssen as Wolfram, perhaps his greatest role. Andrésen's participation in Toscanini's 1931 Parsifal was another eminent achievement.
Meanwhile, Andrésen had made himself a valued addition at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. At his debut in November 1930, his Daland in Der fliegende Holländer drew this New York Times comment: "He sang and acted with vigor and commanding sincerity." A January 1931 Lohengrin also gained him glowing reviews, each noting his dignity of carriage and vocal authority. The 1931 — 1932 season brought a performance of Hagen especially praised for its enormous power.
Aside from the more-or-less complete Tannhäuser, Andrésen recorded a considerable number of arias and songs. His recordings, seldom out of the catalog, were first transferred to vinyl and, later, to CD format. Andrésen's scenes from Götterdämmerung and Parsifal, and his richly tapestried readings of Sarastro's arias are all unsurpassed and equaled by no more than four or five other basses of the recording era.