Rothenberger, who studied with Erika Müller from 1942 to 1944, joined the Municipal Theatre at Koblenz in 1943. Here she made her operatic stage debut as Christel / Der Vogelhändler, shortly followed by Gretel / Hänsel und Gretel; but with the closure of theatres following the declaration of total war in 1944 was forced to find work in a metal factory. In 1947 however she sang in a concert at the Musikhalle in Hamburg and was offered a contract with the Hamburg State Opera by Günther Rennert, making her debut as Oscar / Un ballo in maschera.
A member of this company until 1959 and a regular guest until 1973, Rothenberger initially focused upon the soubrette and light soprano roles such as Cherubino / Le nozze di Figaro, Blonde / Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Musetta / La Bohème and Olympia / Les Contes d’Hoffmann. She also sang Regina, in the British premiere of Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, with the Hamburg company at the Edinburgh Festival in 1952.
With the Vienna State Opera Rothenberger first sang in 1953, becoming a member of the company in 1958 and singing twenty roles in a total of 365 performances; she also sang frequently with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. Her Salzburg Festival debut came in 1954, singing Telemachus in the first performance of Rolf Liebermann’s opera Penelope. She returned frequently: as Papagena / Die Zauberflöte (1956, 1963), Zdenka / Arabella (1958), Flaminia / Il mondo della luna (Haydn) (1959) and Sophie / Der Rosenkavalier (1959–1965); and took part in the first performance of Liebermann’s Die Schule der Frauen in 1957.
Rothenberger sang Sophie at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1959, 1960 and 1965; and after appearing at La Scala, Milan in 1960, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York in the autumn of 1960 as Zdenka, opposite Lisa della Casa in the title part of Arabella. She returned to the Met to sing Susanna / Le nozze di Figaro, Oscar and Amor / Orfeo ed Euridice in the spring of 1962, followed by Adele / Die Fledermaus and Sophie during the 1962–1963 season; and Adele, Sophie, Zdenka and Musetta in the autumns of 1963, 1964 and 1965.
During the 1960s Rothenberger gradually moved into heavier parts, creating the title role in Sutermeister’s Madame Bovary at Zürich in 1967 and singing the title role of Berg’s Lulu with the Hamburg State Opera in a fine production by Rennert. Other notable later assumptions included Fiordiligi / Così fan tutte at Salzburg in 1969 and 1970, Konstanze / Die Entführung aus dem Serail in 1970 and the Composer / Ariadne auf Naxos at the 1973 Munich Festival.
This shift of repertoire was not entirely successful but the momentum of Rothenberger’s career was maintained during the 1970s when she starred in two very popular German television shows, entitled Anneliese Rothenberger Gibt Sich die Ehre (Anneliese Rothenberger Has the Honour), featuring young singers, and Traumland Operette (Dreamland Operetta). She had made her first film appearance as far back as 1951 and sang Adele in Michael Powell’s film version of Die Fledermaus, Oh…Rosalinda!! in 1955. Rothenberger retired from the operatic stage in 1983, but continued to give recitals until 1989. After the death in 1999 of her husband and manager, the journalist Gerd Dieberitz, whom she had married in 1954, she settled in Switzerland.
She possessed a sweet and agile voice which was well suited to operetta as well as lighter parts, in which she could make full use of her attractive appearance and excellent dramatic skills. She recorded extensively.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).