Rethberg, née Sättler, was born in Schwarzenberg (Saxony). She first studied the piano. In 1912 she enrolled with the Dresden Conservatory first as a piano student Eventually, her vocal coach, Otto Watrin, persuaded her otherwise. In 1915, at the age of twenty-one, she made her debut at the Dresdener Hofoper as Arsena in Zigeunerbaron.
Elisabeth Rethberg is a “singer’s singer.” She is a master of perfect legato singing and of a wonderful messa di voce.
Many of Elisabeth Rethberg’s records belong to the most beautiful soprano treasures, above all, her splendid legacy of recordings she made from 1921 to 1934
I hesitated to label her with her German Fach because I’m not sure that it adds anything to description of Rethberg’s voice. The Italian equivalent is spinto soprano. This is the Fach in which some have put Callas. Needless to say, Rethberg had a big voice, but she wasn’t a Brunhilde.
Choosing selections is very difficult for singer who go back this far and even farther. This is generally because the recordings were recorded acoustically, which means that the sound quality may not be very good, or there has been an attempt to get rid of surface noise. Getting rid of surface noise also gets rid of higher frequencies, and doing this removes a good chunk of the voice. I have tried to pick selections where I don’t think that much manipulation has been done to the recording. This means that you will have to listen through the noise, but you will hear more of the voice. I am highly sensitive to this, and I have had to remaster many CDs myself when the manipulations to the sound have been too much for me to ignore.