Elisabeth Rethberg 1924-1930
During the period between the two World Wars the operatic profession contained few sopranos more widely admired both by the public and the critics than Elisabeth Rethberg. Arturo Toscanini once declared 'She is the greatest soprano in the world'. Rethberg was not the kind of artist around whom musical legends gather however, and yet, as every track on the current disc bears witness, she was vocally, musically and stylistically, an artist of the highest calibre.
|Review||"Elisabeth Rethberg has a good claim to being one of the two or three greatest inter-war sopranos and 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 upon 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, yet 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." - Ralph Moore|