Forgotten Opera Singers

Forgotten Opera Singers

Jul 30, 2013

Rosa Raisa (Soprano) (Bialystok, Russia 1893 - Santa Monica / California 1963)

She was a Polish-born, Italian-trained, Russian-Jewish dramatic operatic soprano. In 1926 she created the role of Turandot at La Scala, Milan. She was born as Raitza Burchstein, daughter of Herschel and Frieda Leah (Constantanovsky) Burchstein, in Białystok in 1893. Her mother died in 1899 and Herschel remarried, Chaya. Along with her cousins (Sasha Vigdorchik and his family) she fled Poland when she was 14 due to the pogroms, emigrating to the Isle of Capri, Italy. There Raitza met Dario Ascarelli and his wife Ester,], who recognized her talent and potential and sponsored her at the Naples Conservatory (San Pietro a Majella). Her teacher at the conservatory, the contralto Barbara Marchisio (1833–1919), had been one of the most prominent Italian singers of the mid-19th century. (See Marchisio's entry in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, edited by Harold Rosenthal and John Warrack, Oxford University Press, second edition, 1980.)
Marchisio brought Raisa in 1912 to Cleofonte Campanini, a leading operatic conductor and impresario. After the audition, he engaged the 20-year-old singer for the 1913 Parma Verdi Centenary: "Oberto, Conte di San Bonafico" and "Un ballo in maschera," and also signed her for his Philadelphia-Chicago Opera. As she was under 21 years of age, her engagement was confirmed in a handshake. In her Chicago Aida debut (November 29, 1913) at the famous Auditorium, she revealed "a voice the like of whose power had never been heard on that stage."
Debuts and successes followed rapidly for Raisa: a 3-mmonth tour of North America, London and Paris. During the early period of World War I she made debuts at Rome, Milan (La Scala), Buenos Aires (Teatro Colãn) and Rio de Janeiro. She returned to the Chicago Opera in 1916 as a well-established dramatic soprano. Enrico Caruso, who sang with her in London and Buenos Aires, considered her the "greatest dramatic soprano in the world". Triumphs followed rapidly; she was acclaimed for her Aida, Norma, Maliella in I gioielli della Madonna, and Rachel in La Juive.
In 1924, Arturo Toscanini brought her back to La Scala for the creation of Boito's Nerone (in the role of Asteria). At that time Giacomo Puccini heard her again (he had first heard her sing in Zandonai's "Francesca da Rimini" in 1916; offering her the creation of his next opera "La Rondine" for 1917) and told her he wanted her to create the lead role in his new, as yet unfinished opera, Turandot. Puccini died in November of that year and left Turandot unfinished. Turandot had its world premiere at La Scala on 25 April 1926, under Toscanini's baton, with Raisa appearing as Turandot and Miguel Fleta as Calaf. It was at this performance that Toscanini stopped the performance at the exact point where Puccini had ceased composing; the finale, prepared by Franco Alfano from Puccini's musical sketches, was given at the second performance two nights later (27 April). Toscanini believed her to be the "most gifted of dramatic sopranos".
Rosa Raisa married the Italian baritone Giacomo Rimini (1888–1952) in 1920; the couple had first met five years earlier. Their careers merged and after retirement in 1938 they opened a voice/opera school together in Chicago. Their daughter Rosa Giulietta Frieda Rimini was born 7 July 1931. They sang hundreds of concerts together, especially in the United States, many of them sponsored by Jewish groups as Raisa had become a beloved ethnic icon. She often closed her recitals with the Yiddish song "Eili, Eili".
On 4 November 1929, she was awarded the honor of opening the new Chicago Civic Opera House in a performance of Aida (broadcast throughout the USA) with a stellar cast personally selected by Civic Opera president Samuel Insull, the Chicago industrialist who later ran foul of the law. Raisa and Rimini invested their considerable earnings in Insull securities (actually a ponzi scheme) and eventually lost their fortune, on paper estimated in the range of a million dollars. Rosa Raisa died in Los Angeles, California in 1963, aged 70, from undisclosed causes.

Chronology of some appearances

1913 Parma  Teatro Regio Ballo in maschera (Amelia)
1913 Baltimora  Opera House Boheme (Mimi)
1913 Chicago  Civic Opera House Boheme (Mimi)
1914 Minneapolis  St.Paul Theater Boheme (Mimi)
1915  Buenos Ayres  Teatro Colon Boheme (Mimi)
1915 Buenos Ayres  Teatro Colon Boheme (Mimi)
1915 Rio de Janeiro  Teatro Municipal Boheme (Mimi)
1916 Chicago  Civic Opera House Andrea Chenier (Maddalena)
1916 Buenos Ayres  Teatro Colon Ballo in maschera (Amelia)
1916 Rio de Janeiro  Teatro Municipal Ballo in maschera (Amelia)
1919 Chicago  Civic Opera House Ballo in maschera (Amelia)
1920 Chicago  Civic Opera House Andrea Chenier (Maddalena)
1925 Chicago  Civic Opera House Andrea Chenier (Maddalena)
1927 Chicago  Civic Opera House Ballo in maschera (Amelia)
1928 Milano  Teatro La Scala Andrea Chenier (Maddalena)
1930 Chicago  Civic Opera House Ballo in maschera (Amelia)


Pathe, USA 1917?
Africana (Meyerbeer): Figlio del sol 60055 66087
Norma  (Bellini): Casta Diva....Ah, bello a me ritorna 60055  66149
Capelli d'oro (Stornello) 60062  66223

Vocalion, USA 1920 - 1924
Eili, Eili (Trad)  30011 A692
Vespri Siciliani (Verdi):  Bolero 30115 5781
None But the Lonely Heart (Tchaikovsky)  30134 7093
Kalinka (Russian Folk Song) 30160 7033
Otello (Verdi): Ave Maria 52007 7098
Aida (Verdi): La fatal pietra with Giuilio Crimi 52023 7104
Aida (Verdi): Morir si pura e bella with Giuilio Crimi 52043  7106
Crucifix (Faure) with Rosa Raisa 52031 A70032
Aida (Verdi): O terra addio with Giulio Crimi 7106 52043
Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni): Voi lo sapete 70031
La Paloma (Yradier) 52051   10996
Norma (Bellini): Casta diva 55001 5508
Trovatore (Verdi): Miserere with Giulio Crimi 55007 5813
Trovatore (Verdi): Miserere with Armand Tokatyan A-0201
Aida (Verdi): O patria mia 70007 11035
Gioconda  (Ponchielli): Suicidio! 70034 5850
Mefistofele  (Boito): L'altra notte 70036 11157
Madama Butterfly (Puccini): Un bel di vedremo 70036 11190
Trovatore  (Verdi): Timor di me...D'amor sull'ali rosee 54007 A669

Brunswick, Chicago
Trovatore  (Verdi): Mira d’acerbe lagrime  with Giacomo Rimini 11095   A70030
Ernani (Verdi): Ernani! Ernani, involami 15174
Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni): Turiddu mi tolse l’onore  with Giacomo Rimini XE 29230-3 900
Trovatore (Verdi): Mira d’acerbe lagrime with Giacomo Rimini XE29231-3 90004
Don Giovanni (Mozart): La, ci darem la mano  with Giacomo Rimini  30108 A60019

HMV, Milano 1933
Tosca (Puccini): Vissi d'arte DB2122 2M 1442-2
Andrea Chenier (Giordano): La mamma morta DB2123  2M 1446-2


  1. Thank you so much I'm the nice of Giulio Cortella who, in 1930 circa, in Badia Polesine, Rovigo, Italy, organized an Andrea Chenier where Rosa Raisa sung! Thank You again!

    1. Thank you too Dear Giulia for your comment
      All the best