A thorough if dry biography of Rosa Raisa, a star of the Chicago Opera during the first half of the 20th century whose name curiously disappeared from popular memory as soon as she retired.
Born in Bialystock, Poland, Raitza Burchstein fled the pogroms to Capri at the turn of the century. It didn’t take long for the Italians to appreciate her singing voice, says the star-struck freelance music journalist Mintzer, who traces Raisa’s career from its roots in Italy, where she changed her name, to her grand days in Chicago, stopping to linger over all the globetrotting attendant on being a big-name singer, and concluding with a chronology of her performances. Inserting passages from Raisa’s unpublished autobiography, Mintzer sets the scene for each performance, explains her relations with other singers and the likes of Toscanini and Puccini, and charts her family life, which included numerous miscarriages in her hope to have a child. But he leaves it to contemporaneous newspaper reviewers to give a critical sense of Raisa’s singing. Although there are a few jabs—mostly from New York writers, who may have noted her absence from the ranks of the Metropolitan Opera, or who have been put off by her highly emotive approach and the sheer power of her voice—most of the reviews have nothing but fulsome praise for the soprano. “She possesses a magnificent voice, rich in sonorous and powerful notes of beautiful timbre,” raved the Italians. “The most marvelous, the most glorious voice of any kind or character, barring none, which has come under my observation for many a year,” wrote Max Smith of the New York American.
A boon for opera-lovers hungry to learn more about Raisa’s story now that her once-rare recordings are being released on CD. (Photos throughout)