V0054. ELISABETH RETHBERG: Arias from Alceste, Nozze, Forza, Ballo, Simon Boccanegra, Idomeneo, La Wally, Aïda, La Boheme & L’Enfant Prodigue; ELISABETH RETHBERG, w.Martinelli, Clemens & Boerner: La Juive – 6 Excerpts. (Italy) Phonographe PH 5103, Live Performances, 1936-41, partially San Francisco Opera, with announcement. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 8010984051037
“What makes Elisabeth Rethberg one of the great singers in recorded history is first and foremost the classic virtues of her singing. Born in Schwarzenberg, Saxony, in 1894, she reigned at the Metropolitan Opera as a leading prima donna from 1922 to 1942, singing a wide range of repertoire. One has to be careful in describing the ‘classic virtues’ of an artist’s singing. This could be taken as code for ‘but not dramatically interesting’. Rethberg was never a dull singer, but she mainly made her dramatic points through musical means. One cannot point to a remarkable imagination in coloring the voice or a highly individual turn of phrase, as one might with Maria Callas, or closer to Rethberg’s own time, Claudia Muzio. She communicated the meaning of the words through the push and pull of subtle rubato, through a wide range of dynamic shades, and by varying the intensity of tone. John B. Steane, in his classic book THE GRAND TRADITION, writes of her singing that ‘it makes its expression through the purest musical beauty’.
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“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