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Elisabeth Rethberg

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The German soprano Elisabeth Rethberg (22 September 1894 – 6 June 1976) was an opera singer active from the period of the First World War through to the early 1940s, who was regarded as some the greatest soprano of her day.

While she did not break any new ground dramatically or vocally, Rethberg was just as much at home singing in Italian or German. She employed her lyric voice with such focus that she never seems obscured in old recordings by either loud orchestras or larger-voiced partners. She slotted ideally into delicate Mozartian roles yet was perhaps the greatest Amelia in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera that the Metropolitan Opera has ever known. Her singing of the more lyrical Wagnerian soprano parts such as Sieglinde, Eva, Elsa and Elisabeth was unsurpassed in its day and probably since.

Rethberg was born Elisabeth Sättler in Schwarzenberg. She studied at Dresden’s conservatory with Otto Watrin and made her operatic debut in that German city in the operetta Zigeunerbaron by Johann Strauss in 1915. Rethberg sang with the Dresden Opera until 1922. In that year, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Aida. She moved to the USA and remained with the Metropolitan for 20 seasons, singing some 30 roles on stage and in the recording studio opposite such famous tenor colleagues as Beniamino Gigli, Giovanni Martinelli and Giacomo Lauri-Volpi. She also was engaged by London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where she sang in 1925 and in 1934-1939. The Salzburg Festival in Austria heard her too, as did audiences in Milan and elsewhere in Europe.

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