Elisabeth Rethberg
Acoustic Recordings:
1. Aida, Verdi, Ritorna vincitor [4.26]
2. Aida, Verdi, O patria mia [4.44]
3. Andrea Chénier, Giordano, La mamma morta [4.22]
4. La bohème, Puccini, Mi chiamano Mimi [4.41]
5. Madama Butterfly, Puccini, Un bel dì vedremo [4.28]
6. Tosca, Puccini, Vissi d'arte [3.24]
Electric Recordings:
7. Tannhäuser, Wagner, Dich teure Halle [3.24]
8. Lohengrin, Wagner, Einsam in trüben Tagen [4.21]
9. Lohengrin, Wagner, Euch Lüften, die mein Klagen [3.40]
10. Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart, Porgi amor [3.18] (sung in German)
11. Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart, Deh vieni, non tardar [3.22]
12. Die Zauberflöte, Mozart, Ach, ich fühl's [3.43]
13. Der Zigeunerbaron, J. Strauss, So elend und so treu [2.42]
14. Carmen, Bizet, Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante (Micaela's aria) [3.59]
(sung in German)
15. Otello, Verdi, Piangea cantando ... O Salce! Salce! (Willow Song) [4.31]
16. Otello, Verdi, Ave Maria [4.17]
17. Un ballo in maschera, Verdi, Ma dall' arido stelo [4.43]
18. Un ballo in maschera, Verdi, Morro, ma prima in grazia [4.35]
Elisabeth Rethberg (soprano)
rec. 1924 – 1930.
Elisabeth Rethberg has a good claim to being one of the two or three greatest inter-war sopranos. This compilation of recordings, the first made acoustically in 1924 through the transition to electric recording in 1925 and up to 1930, amply illustrates why. Hugely admired by Toscanini and a major star at the Metropolitan Opera, Rethberg possessed absolute purity and security of utterance, seamless legato and the ability, shared by the finest singers, to invest the text with inner fire and emotion.
She was that rare voice type: a lyric dramatic with spinto and Wagnerian capabilities, hence her repertoire spanned Mozart, through Verdi to Wagner and Puccini. All the arias here display huge merit and remain a testament to her stylistic versatility. The shining, shimmering quality of her tone at first seems too bright for Verdi, too light for Wagner and too perfect for verismo yet she clearly encompasses the demands of all three, often combining subtlety with power – witness how the floated pianissimo top C of “O patria mia” is sung dolce as Verdi marked it, yet she is equally capable of giving enormous passion and weight to Amelia’s “Mal dall' arido stelo”. There is a peculiarly plangent, vibrant quality to her voice in any phrase rising above top F. As such, she has the perfect vocal lay-out to give pathos to Desdemona’s sorrow and Amelia’s desperation. The same Verdian voice has the poise and delicacy to give us a charming Susanna but is just as at home in Maddalena’s “La mamma morta”. Comparisons with Lina Bruna-Rasa, another famous, contemporary exponent of that role, reveal that Rethberg’s very technical proficiency means that she doesn’t have the break between registers which makes Bruna-Rasa’s more overtly animated account so earthy and visceral. Even so, she brings a special tenderness to the long, swelling line beginning “Viva ancora! Io son la vita”, floating the phrases in a manner quite foreign to Bruna-Rasa’s gutsy, abandoned style.
She was no Brünnhilde; a belated and abortive attempt to sing that role in 1942 proved that all too painfully and served as the precursor to an abrupt retirement. Wagner’s more girlish heroines lay comfortably within her Fach. Elsa and Elisabeth are both effulgently voiced with an ecstatic, long-breathed phrasing and exquisite messa di voce reminiscent of Gundula Janowitz’s vocalisation but with a better top B than that later artist.
Nigel Douglas provides an excellent and informative essay on Rethberg’s career and special gifts; this well-filled disc belongs in the collection of every lover of the soprano voice.  

Ralph Moore
This well-filled disc belongs in the collection of every lover of the soprano voice.