High coloratura soprano is one of the most admired voice types. It’s only logical, because what these ladies do falls a bit into the category of “nightingale on a trapeze”. Sometimes it really is a bit like a circus; there are those ladies who have made it their profession to perform tricks, forgetting that their high notes should also be music.
Not so Rita Streich, for me the very best and most beautiful coloratura soprano ever. Of course, her voice is light as a feather and her embellishments impeccable, but in contrast to many of her colleagues, her repertoire is actually unlimited: opera, operetta, songs, oratorios…
She is not equally good at everything. I find her Schubert a little too light-hearted, so that much of the text is lost. But in the opera genre she is much more in her element. I am referring, of course, to her unearthly Queen of the Night (Die Zauberflöte, Mozart) and to her other showpiece: Zerbinetta (Ariadne auf Naxos, Strauss).
Streich sings the role of Zerbinetta in such a superior way that you do not even notice its virtuosity; it sounds so natural. Just listen to her performance of ‘Großmächtige Prinzessin’. Where many of her colleagues in that aria remind you of someone juggling notes, Streich manages to add the most important element: feeling. Note also the warm glow of her singing, which does not lose its lustre even at the highest notes.
Have you ever heard her performance of the Moon Song from Dvořak’s Rusalka? As volatile and elusive as sea foam, but filled with the desires of an adolescent girl in love:
I find Streich at her very best in light songs by Saint-Saëns, Delibes and Eva Dell’Acqua, among others. With the light golden sheen to her voice, she reminds me of an old-fashioned porcelain dancer.
Below, as an example, is ‘The Nightingale’ by Alabiev. She sings it in perfect Russian, a language that she, as a Russian-born daughter of a Russian mother and a German father, has mastered well.