Forgotten Opera Singers

Forgotten Opera Singers

Nov 20, 2018

Elisabeth Rethberg (Soprano) (Schwarzenberg, Germany 22 September 1894 – Yorktown Heights, New York 6 June 1976)

Her real name was Lisbeth Sättler. Already in her childhood, she showed an amazing musical talent and performed Schubert songs at the age of seven. First she studied piano (1912-1913), then singing at the Conservatory of Dresden, and finally with the Dresdner educator Otto Watrin. She made her debut at the Dresdner Hofoper in 1915 as Arsena in "Zigeunerbaron" and had her first great success there as Agathe in "Freischütz". In 1919 she sang the role of Empress in the Dresden premiere of  "Frau ohne Schatten" by R. Strauss. On 11. 12. 1917 she appeared in Dresden in the premiere of Hans Pfitzner's "Christelflein", on 23. 2. 1920 in Hugo Kaun's "Der Fremde". Then  she performed at the Hofopern in Vienna and also in Berlin. She was very successful at the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts. She remained in Dresden until 1922 and then joined to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where she had brilliant successes from 1922 to 1942. Her debut role in New York was Aida. Here she also sang in 1928 in the premiere of Respighi's  "Campana sommersa".  Arturo Toscanini called her voice the most beautiful soprano he has ever heard. In the 1928-1940 seasons she performed again and again at the San Francisco Opera,  from 1934 to 1941 at the Chicago Opera; she also appeared at the Ravinia Festival near Chicago. In 1923 and 1928 she sang at the Havana Opera,  in 1925 and from 1934 to 1939 at the Covent Garden Opera in London, in 1929 at La Scala in Milan (as Aida under Toscanini) and in 1934 at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma. In 1936 she appeared with great success in R. Strauss’s  "Rosenkavalier" at the Covent Garden Opera in London. She was also heard in her native country: on June 6, 1928 she appeared in the title role at the Staatsoper in Dresden in the world premiere of R. Strauss’s opera "Die Ägyptische Helena". At the Salzburg Festival she sang the role of Konstanze in Mozart’s "Entführung aus dem Serail" (1922), in 1933 she performed as Leonore in "Fidelio" and in 1937 as Donna Anna in "Don Giovanni", in 1933 she sang the soprano solo in the G. Verdi’s ‘’Requiem’’. Concert tours have taken her through North America, Canada, Australia and Europe. Her first husband was the merchant Albert Doman. In 1957 she married the baritone George Cehanovsky (1892-1986). In 1942 she retired from the stage. In 1944 she gave a final concert at the New York Town Hall. She continued to live in New York. Her repertoire included Aida, Donna Anna, Desdemona, Leonora in "Trovatore", Butterfly, Tosca, Agathe in "Freischütz", Maddalena in "Andrea Chénier", Sieglinde, Elsa, Elisabeth in "Tannhäuser" and Sieglinde in "Walküre".


  1. I believe that no one who has a deep interest in opera and its history does not know who Rethberg was. She is definitely not a Forgotten Singer.