B0023. (RAISA) Charles Mintzer. Rosa Raisa, A Biography of a Diva with Selections from Her Memoirs. Boston, Northeastern University Press, 2001. 342pp. Index; Discography; Exhaustive Chronology, 1911-43; Concert Repertoire; Photos; DJ. Long out–of–print, final copy! - 9781555535049 155553-504-6
“Rosa Raisa (1893-1963) was clearly quite a singer. She was encouraged to pursue a singing career by Vincenzo Lombardi, a teacher of Enrico Caruso and Fernando De Lucia. She was taught by Barbara Marchisio, a contralto who also instructed Toti Dal Monte and for whom (along with soprano sister Carlotta) Rossini wrote his PETITE MESSE SOLENELLE. Three months after her professional début, which she made in 1912, a month and a half shy of her nineteenth birthday, Raisa launched her twenty-five-year career as the principal dramatic soprano in Chicago. Six months after that she was singing in London and Paris opposite the likes of Enrico Caruso, Giovanni Martinelli, John McCormack, Claudia Muzio, Pasquale Amato, Antonio Scotti, Maggie Teyte, Edoardo Ferrari-Fontana, Vanni-Marcoux, and Adamo Didur. Her notably powerful voice prompted Arturo Toscanini to dub her ‘the [Francesco] Tamagno of dramatic sopranos’, after the trumpet-toned creator of Verdi's OTELLO, and the ferociously demanding maestro substituted her for the legendary Giannina Arangi-Lombardi in a TROVATORE cast he deemed inadequate. Toscanini also chose her for the role of Asteria in Boito's NERONE and happily held up the opera's 1924 world premiere until she was available to take part in it. Two years later this notorious stickler permitted Raisa to arrive two weeks after the start of rehearsals for the world premiere of TURANDOT, which Puccini, who a decade earlier had asked her to be the first Magda in LA RONDINE, had written with her clarion top register in mind. Further ensuring Raisa's place in operatic history, she was the prima donna chosen to inaugurate the Chicago Civic Opera's new house in 1929. And her singing made long-lasting impressions on such disparate critics as the knowledgeable Paul Hume and the opinionated but hopelessly ignorant Claudia Cassidy.
Raisa so captivated the New York writer Charles Mintzer that he spent nearly a third of a century researching a soprano he never heard in person. For all her achievements, however, she will always be the other Rosa, perpetually in the shadow of the immortal Ponselle girl whose operatic career—launched in 1918 at age twenty-one with the Met premiere of Verdi's LA FORZA DEL DESTINO opposite Caruso, Giuseppe De Luca, and José Mardones and abruptly abandoned in 1937 with Bizet's CARMEN—began even more meteorically but was half a dozen years shorter.
Mintzer grudgingly admits to Raisa's second-tier status, calling her ‘a significant but somewhat forgotten artist’. Somewhat, indeed. Despite her link to TURANDOT, now three-quarters of a century old but still the most recent opera in the standard repertory, to most opera lovers she is as much an obscure operatic footnote as Margarethe Siems, the first Chrysothemis, Marschallin, and Zerbinetta, or Viorica Ursuleac, another favorite of Richard Strauss and the creator of the prima-donna roles in his ARABELLA, FRIEDENSTAG, and valedictory CAPRICCIO.
Mintzer's labor of love works hard to rescue the author's favorite diva from operatic oblivion. It tells a compelling story, if not always in the most riveting prose, and makes a valuable adjunct to Ward Marston's three-CD ‘intégrale’ of Raisa's recordings (53001), which Mintzer produced and annotated. This biography, which includes a detailed career chronology, a discography, many passages from its subject's unfinished memoirs, and a discussion of her fifty-odd recordings.”
- William Albright, THE OPERA QUARTERLY, Autumn, 2002
“Drawing upon a large variety of sources over a long period of time, including the soprano’s own unpublished memoirs, Charles Mintzer has probably become the world’s greatest authority on Rosa Raisa….[Mintzer provides] a chronology of all her live performances, including cast lists, that is as complete as he has been able to make it. There is also a list of all her recordings, with label information and recording dates….”
- James Miller, FANFARE, May/June, 2002