Rita Streich, a light lyric coloratura, was the child of a Russian mother and a German prisoner-of-war father. Circuitously, the family made its way to Berlin where Streich grew up, and studied with Maria Ivogün, Erna Berger, and Willi Domgraf-Fassbänder (the father of Brigitte, and Germany's leading Papageno between wars). She made her debut in 1943 at Aussig (today Ústí nad Labem on the northern border of the Czech Republic), singing Zerbinetta in Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. In 1946, she became a member of the Berlin Staatsoper in the Unter den Linden, featured as Blonde in Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio and Olympia in Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann. There, until 1951, she also sang Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Gilda in Rigoletto, and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. During two subsequent seasons at the Städtische Oper, temporarily relocated in the Theater des Westens, she sang Zerbinetta, Konstanze this time in The Seraglio, and the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute. In 1952 - 1953 she was the Woodbird in Wagner's Siegfried at the reopened Bayreuth Festival, then joined the Vienna State Opera, where she remained a member until her retirement from the stage in 1972. Streich made frequent guest appearances at Munich, however, and in 1954 debuted at London (Zerlina and Susanna, in Mozart's Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro, respectively), the Salzburg Festival (as Aennchen in Der Freischütz under Furtwängler), and Rome (Sophie again). La Scala came later on.
The soprano made her U.S. debut in 1957 at San Francisco, singing two performances each as Despina in Mozart's Così fan tutte, Zerbinetta in Ariadne, and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. She returned in 1959 for two more Zerbinettas, but in 1960 switched to the Chicago Lyric Opera — a house too capacious for her voice. She appeared three times as Susanna in Figaro, and repeated the role in 1962, adding three more performances as Amor in Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. These were her last American opera appearances. Her voice was a small instrument for all the purity and technical control, better suited to a small theater such as Glyndebourne, where she appeared for the first time in 1958 as Zerbinetta. During the 1950s, Streich became a best-selling name on recordings as Zerbinetta, Sophie, Susanna, Aennchen, Adele in Die Fledermaus, and Blonde, but especially on recital discs that included coloratura stunt-fluff as well as music by Mozart, Schubert, Wolf, Richard Strauss, even Milhaud — most carefully chosen for the fach and size of her voice, although not always temperamentally suitable.
In the 1960s ,she appeared in Viennese operettas as well as operatic repertory, generously documented on German broadcast tapes of live performances. Streich retired from the stage in 1972 to teach at Essen, but returned four years later to Vienna, where she continued to teach, and where she died at the age of sixty-six. In the 1950s, and for some years after, she was considered the foremost German coloratura of her generation, often likened to her ageless teacher Erna Berger.