OP0778. DER ROSENKAVALIER, Live Performance, 21 Nov., 1949 [Opening Night], w.Reiner Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Risë Stevens, Eleanor Steber, Erna Berger (début), Emanuel List, Giuseppe di Stefano, etc. (England) 3–Naxos 8.110277/79. Transfers by Ward Marston. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 636943127728
“By the time Risë Stevens was 18, she was appearing regularly, sometimes in leading roles, with the Little Theater Opera Company, a Brooklyn troupe. (The company was later known as the New York Opéra-Comique). In the audience one night was Anna Schön-René, a well-known voice teacher on the faculty of the Juilliard School. She began teaching Ms. Stevens privately, and arranged for her to attend Juilliard on a scholarship, starting in the fall of 1933. Ms. Stevens spent two and a half years at Juilliard, where she continued her studies with Schön-René. Though Ms. Stevens had been considered a contralto, Schön-René discerned her true vocal register and helped lighten her voice for mezzo roles. In 1935, financed by Schön-René, Ms. Stevens spent the summer at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, where her teachers included the distinguished soprano Marie Gutheil-Schöder.
Ms. Stevens returned to Europe, making her formal operatic début in Prague, as Mignon, in 1936. Joining the Met in 1938, she made her first appearance with the company on 22 Nov., singing Octavian out of town in Philadelphia. On 17 Dec., she performed for the first time on the Metropolitan Opera stage in New York, singing Mignon.
In Ms. Stevens’ 351 regular appearances at the Met, her professionalism was perhaps never more apparent than it was in one of her many productions of SAMSON ET DALILA. Playing the temptress Dalila, Ms. Stevens reclined on a chaise longue to sing the aria ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’, among the most famous seductions in opera. One night, overcome with theatrical passion, Samson flung himself onto her mid-aria. Samson did not know his own strength. Under his considerable force, the chaise longue, on casters, began to move. Ms. Stevens sailed offstage and into the wings, still singing."
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 21 March, 2013
“[Eleanor Steber] had an innate feeling for Mozart and Strauss, and had a loveliness of tone that recalled the voice of a great predecessor, Edith Mason.”
- Rosa Ponselle, A SINGER’S LIFE, p.203
"Steber definitely possessed the most glorious instrument of all, with its classically organized technique, impeccable management of breath support, easy agility and, above all, that phosphorescent top register….She was a singer who possessed a rare combination of vocal radiance, technical mastery and personal charisma, and during her best years, the distinctive purity, spinning tone and easy sweetness of her soprano [which] made her the Mozart-Strauss soprano of one’s dreams."
- Peter G. Davis, OPERA NEWS, Nov., 2003
“At a time when many high sopranos offered nothing more than a steam whistle sound, the cool, pure timbre of Erna Berger's instrument fell upon the ears as a balm. Though not large, her instrument had sufficient carrying power to be heard in Europe's largest theaters and not get lost even in the open spaces of the old Metropolitan Opera where she sang briefly beginning in 1949. Trim and petite, she remained a credible stage figure into her fifties and retained to the end of her career the firmness and clarity of tone which had brought her acclaim at an early age. She was an accomplished recitalist and concert singer as well, excelling in the art of German song and such concert works as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
She trained in Dresden with Melizza Hirzel and, in auditioning for a scholarship, was heard by conductor Fritz Busch who engaged her forthwith. Berger made her opera début at the Dresden Opera in 1925 as the First Boy in DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE. There, she sang numerous roles, many of them in the Italian and French repertories. When she moved on to Berlin, her reputation grew enormously and conductors throughout Europe began to regard her as indispensable for many of the coloratura roles, such as Zerbinetta, the Queen of the Night, and Konstanze.
From 1930 to 1933, Berger was engaged at the Bayreuth Festival, her Shepherd in TANNHÄUSER and Woodbird in SIEGFRIED being regarded as definitive. Her Salzburg début came in 1932 when she sang Blondchen in Mozart's DIE ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL; she continued to sing there until 1954 when her Zerlina still appeared and sounded youthful.
On 30 April, 1934, she appeared for the first time on a London stage when her Marzelline, described as "’enchanting’, was heard with Lotte Lehmann, Franz Völker, and Alexander Kipnis. Her Woglinde in DAS RHEINGOLD was likewise praised as was her Woodbird. A return engagement was arranged for the following year and, in 1938, Berger was finally available to perform Konstanze (Sir Thomas Beecham has insisted on her). She also sang the Queen of the Night and Sophie in ROSENKAVALIER. Although her Konstanze was deemed lightweight, it was, according to Francis Toye, ‘technically first rate’. Similar views were expressed about her Queen: well sung, if somewhat lacking the daemonic element. Her Sophie, however, brought no reservations whatever. When Berger returned in 1949, her Queen was more fully appreciated and the public and the critics received both her Sophie and Gilda with unreserved delight.
ROSENKAVALIER was the opera in which Berger was introduced to the Metropolitan Opera audience on 21 November, 1949. Described by Irving Kolodin as ‘a wonderfully pure, well-phrased Sophie’, Berger went on to sing other such specialties as Gilda and the Queen of the Night. From composer/critic Virgil Thomson she won this praise: ‘She is one of the great sources of musical satisfaction in our time’."
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“Giuseppe di Stefano possessed an especially beautiful voice. It was impossible not to be moved; he truly had the sound of tears in his voice, without being over sentimental. His wonderful piano – and his stirring voice – moved his audience almost beyond endurance.”
- Birgit Nilsson, LA NILSSON, p.116