V0052. ELISABETH RETHBERG: The Complete Brunswick Recordings, 1924 - 1929, incl. three Unpublished Titles. Songs by Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Loewe, Grieg, Taubert, Jensen, Lassen, Flies, Gounod, Massenet, Braga, Korschat, Hildach, Tschaikowsky, Rubinstein, Densmore, Bishop, Cadman, Griffes, etc.; Arias from Sosarme, Xerxes, Nozze, Zauberflöte, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Der Freischütz, Aïda, Otello, La Boheme, Tosca, Andrea Chénier & Madama Butterfly. (England) 2-Romophone 81012. Transfers by Ward Marston. Elaborate booklet features discographic data, photos & extensive notes by John Steane. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 754238101229
“…what a gorgeous voice and what beautiful singing – alas, you don’t hear this [quality in] singing anymore.”
- Rosa Raisa, ROSA RAISA, p.198
“In November 1922, the great German soprano Elisabeth Rethberg made her début at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in the title role of AÏDA and easily conquered Manhattan with her strong, expressive, and intensely emotional singing. While for the remainder of the 1920s through about 1933, Rethberg traveled back and forth between America and Europe, after the rise of Nazi Germany she elected to stay in the United States, appearing as a Met regular through the end of her career in 1942. By coincidence, Rethberg's initial arrival in New York came at about the same time as the American Brunswick label's efforts to upgrade its classical offerings through a new ‘Gold Label Series’. Owing to its robust, jazzy popular music offerings, Brunswick was one of the top labels in the industry by the mid-'20s and would stay that way through 1927 when it changed hands. Subsequently, the label was mismanaged and in 1931 went bankrupt, having lost its stable of name artists and reduced to recording pseudonymous pickup bands in pop hits of the day. Sold off to ARC - a clearinghouse for failed labels - Brunswick became its 75-cent flagship imprint until CBS put it out to pasture in 1939. Why is all of this important in regard to Romophone's ELISABETH RETHBERG: THE COMPLETE BRUNSWICK RECORDINGS 1924-29? Because Rethberg was probably the most important classical vocalist Brunswick ever had under contract, and that's significant as it also recorded Claire Dux and Florence Easton. Brunswick's sound would ensure that the label's classical releases would never present much of a challenge to Victor's prestigious Red Seal brand. Although Rethberg's contract survived the 1927 sale, she was no longer an exclusive artist and became a free agent, a condition that increasingly led her over to Victor where she finally settled in 1929. While it is Rethberg's Victors that mainly speak for her in posterity, there is still a lot to commend the Brunswicks. Rethberg recorded some of her Brunswick-made operatic material anew for Victor - and in longer segments - but the range of opera arias, song, and popular selections extends well beyond that which Victor, HMV, and Parlophone, were willing to book with Rethberg. Here she sings arias from Handel, Mozart, and Weber; German lied from Schubert, Mendelssohn, Loewe, Grieg, and Schumann; and even some English-language material, including ‘Danny Boy’ and a Charles T. Griffes song originally written in German. Producer Ward Marston has done an admirable job locating all of these titles in relatively clean copies with just a couple of exceptions. What makes it all so singular and enchanting is the sheer genius of Rethberg's voice: dead-on pitch, accurate even when singing [arias] such as in Mozart's ‘Deh vieni, non tardar’ from NOZZE; utterly relaxed and invisible in terms of effort and tone production, warmly lyrical and always beautiful in sound. Portamenti never scoop or feel pushed, trills float, and all of the words are characterized; note the quick sob that catches in her voice at the end of ‘Un bel dì’ from MADAMA BUTTERFLY. While Rethberg attracted criticism from some quarters for her lack of acting ability on-stage, she didn't need it since all of the drama is in the voice. While the later recordings she made are more consistent through 1934, Romophone's ELISABETH RETHBERG: THE COMPLETE BRUNSWICK RECORDINGS is the only place where one might find all 46 of these records under the same roof. Unlike a fair number of other ‘complete’ collections devoted to some subset of a prolific recording artist's work, practically all of this is worth experiencing and exposes some aspect of Rethberg's awe-inspiring miracle of singing, despite the sub-par sound and sometimes wayward nature of the accompaniments.”
- Uncle Dave Lewis, allmusic.com
“Elisabeth Rethberg is a ‘singer’s singer’. She is a master of perfect legato singing and of a wonderful messa di voce. Her head register is a miracle, and her impeccable phrasing shows her as a tasteful musician. Despite a rather light and an un-Italian voice, she was an outstanding singer for the Italian repertoire. Her voice can be compared to a diamand, whereas Meta Seinemeyer’s remind us of a ruby. Rethberg feels through the music and the words, but she never imposes too much emotion on them!“
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile
“During the years between the world wars, Elisabeth Rethberg achieved international acclaim for her well-schooled spinto voice, deemed by Arturo Toscanini ‘the most beautiful in the world’. Equal ease in both the German and Italian repertories made her invaluable to many opera houses during this time and her scrupulous musicianship and unfailingly lovely sound brought worshipful audiences to her feet. Despite a certain lack of dramatic impetus, her performances during the prime years ranked with the best.
In her years at Dresden (up to 1922), Rethberg undertook a wide range of lyric-dramatic roles covering a spectrum from Susanna in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, the Empress in Richard Strauss' DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN, and Sophie in DER ROSENKAVALIER to Tosca. In 1922, she found herself at the Salzburg Festival where she continued her dizzying embrace of roles with widely differing demands. For that first season, she performed both the Countess in FIGARO and the much higher-lying Konstanze in Mozart's DIE ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL. In November 1922, Rethberg made her début at the Metropolitan Opera in New York where her Aïda brought glowing reviews and established her as a Met stalwart for 20 consecutive seasons. In New York, she concentrated on the spinto repertory, the area most congenial to her instrument. Other Italian roles there included Cio-Cio-San, Maddalena in ANDREA CHÉNIER, Amelia in Verdi's SIMON BOCCANEGRA, Desdemona, Leonora in IL TROVATORE and even Rautendelein in Respighi's LA CAMPANA SOMMERSA (The Sunken Bell), a rarity led in 1928 by conductor Tullio Serafin. Her German roles included Agathe in Weber's DER FREISCHÜTZ, Sieglinde, Elsa, Elisabeth, Eva and an ill-advised SIEGFRIED Brünnhilde late in her career.
In San Francisco, Rethberg appeared regularly from 1928 until 1940, her roles there including such relatively non-repertory operas as THE BARTERED BRIDE (Marenka) and Halévy's LA JUIVE (Rachel). Rethberg was an occasional visitor to Chicago as well, offering appearances in such roles as Cio-Cio-San, Aïda, Elsa, the TROVATORE Leonora, and Amelia in BALLO IN MASCHERA from 1934 to 1941.
Meanwhile, Rethberg's engagements in Europe continued. She was chosen by Richard Strauss for the title role in the Dresden premiere of DIE ÄGYPTISCHE HELENA in 1928, and in 1929 she made her début at La Scala as Aïda. In 1929, she sang in LA CAMPANA SOMMERSA in Rome, and in 1930 she undertook the WALKÜRE Brünnhilde (a role certainly too heavy for her) in Paris. Other Italian engagements paralleled her work in America and at Covent Garden where English audiences were delighted by her vocal art, if not her dramatic acuity. An appearance as the Marschallin produced reviews praising her exquisite singing but remarking on her inferiority to Lotte Lehmann as an actress. By the early '40s, Rethberg's voice had declined noticeably, her FIGARO Countess making for an unmistakably labored close to her Metropolitan years.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
"They're very collectable, these Romophone complete editions. Up they go on the shelves, and you know that there is another small but quite important area in the history of singing on records properly covered, ready for reference at any time, and reference that will be a pleasure because the standard of transfer is so reliable. In this instance it is the Rethberg Brunswicks...which capture [Rethberg's] voice in its lovely prime."
- J. B. Steane, GRAMOPHONE, Feb., 1995