Rosa Raisa, Chicago’s prima donna Puccini premiered at La Scala, Milan


Chicago hits big when Milan’s Teatro alla Scala announces that soprano Rosa Raisa will play the title role in the world premiere of ‘Turandot’ at the famous opera house.

In 1926, things usually went the other way, as American opera companies were much more likely to advertise guest appearances for European sopranos or baritones. , La Scala stage is a sacred space in the long-haired world, sometimes known as a fan of classical music.

However, Raisa was the composer’s choice, and the management of La Scala did not dare to refuse it.

Giacomo Puccini met Raisa in 1924 at La Scala. Tribune art critic Claudia Cassidy later said: I can see you in that part.

Opera star Rosa Raisa waves from a train platform in Chicago in the 1920s.

Puccini did not have that opportunity. He died shortly after, while “Turandot” was still unfinished. Franco Alfano had to write the final scene before it could be staged. Arturo Toscanini, who oversees it, claimed the prime minister was waiting for Raisa’s vacancy, which meant after his Opera season in Chicago, which was in the second half of La Scala’s season. .

“Not only did Lysa create Turandot, but Turandot was waiting for Lysa,” Cassidy wrote.

The premiere was surely etched in the memory of the performers and the audience. It was a gorgeous performance and costume. A few years later, Raisa donated the flowing gown and opera outfit from “Turandot,” set in the court of the Chinese emperor, to Lyric Her Opera in Chicago, founded in the early 1950s.

At the opening of La Scala, Toscanini ended his performance when he reached the bar marking the end of Puccini’s score.

He put down his baton and, choking with emotion, announced, “Here is where the Maestro died.” Raisa later recalled.

The director performs with operatic soprano Rosa Raisa and tenor Giuseppe Bentonelli at the Chicago Civic Opera on December 1, 1935. This was the first American performance of opera in Chicago.

“Then, as the curtain slowly closed, the crowd burst into applause, which quickly turned into a grand and endless round of applause,” she wrote.

The full score was then played, with heated debate over whether it was better than the Puccini-only version.

Raisa was a Polish Jew. She was born in 1893 in Białystok, a city ruled by the Russian Tsar at the time, and massacres like the one she witnessed in 1906 were regularly taking place. The ground in the courtyard, the victim of an enraged barbarian mob,” she later recalled.

This experience prompted Raisa to leave Białystok to join relatives who had found refuge on the Italian island of Capri. She was delighted and sang through the open window in the evening. “Of course, the whole island could hear me.

A local priest asked her to sing in his church, and a wealthy couple had her audition at the Neapolitan Conservatory. He took her to America. There he doubled as director of her company at the then known Chicago Philadelphia Opera. He insisted that she take her stage name Rosa Raisa, judging that her birth name, Burchstein, did not sound culturally sound.

Opera star Rosa Raisa in costume and makeup, circa 1932.

“I am Jewish and I wanted the public to know. I remembered.

The rave reviews quickly became a hallmark of her career. The New York Globe wrote that her voice had “a voice unlike any other we hear today.”

In Chicago, he made his debut in 1913 in “Aida” at the Auditorium Theatre. She was like love at first sight for her and for her city.

“And from the first day I arrived, Chicago was my home,” she told Studs Terkel in 1959.

The notice of Verdi’s 1913 debut in “Aida” was favorable, but the company’s director warned the press that, as a young performer, she would have “diamonds in rough moments”. She’s 20 and she hasn’t come back for 4 years.

After she sang Mascagni’s “Isabeau” in 1917, Raisa and Chicago were an item for nearly 40 years. She appeared in hundreds of performances in Chicago and on tour.

She married the Italian-American baritone Giacomo Rimini in 1920. A daughter she was born in 1931 in Chicago. The family enjoyed celebrity status in Chicago, sometimes with unfortunate consequences. In 1932, the Associated Press reported that Raisa and her husband had attempted to blackmail and threaten to harm their children unless a ransom was paid. According to the account, a disabled veteran was arrested and confessed, but no one was injured.

When Raisa retired from the Chicago Opera Company in the late 1930s, she and her husband ran a school for opera singers at the Congress Hotel where they lived.

Rimini’s death in 1952 was devastating for Raisa, who had shared so much for so long. “As the years went by, I missed him and his beautiful companionship more and more,” she wrote. Giacomo Rimini has always been “the life of the party” in the best sense of the word. “

In 1956 Raisa moved to California to live with her daughter, son-in-law and grandson. She worked on her memoirs, but they were unfinished when she died in 1963. What she left behind was an opera-worthy plot twist.

Friends, fans and relatives were shocked to read the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

“Los Angeles, Oct. 1 — Internationally renowned soprano and one of the most celebrated opera singers of her generation, Rosa Raisa, 70, today received a private memorial service at Holy Cross Cemetery. A grave visit was made.”

An undated Chicago photo of opera duo Giacomo Lamini and Rosa Raisa.

How was she buried in a Catholic cemetery? She had painful memories of a massacre of Jews by a Christian mob in Białystok. She fiercely resisted taking a non-Jewish stage name. Her English was peppered with Yiddish sounds and expressions. She recorded the Hebrew lament, “Eli, Eli.” This is a Hebrew lament that God has forgiven the Jews for their tragedy.

She told Los Angeles’ Yiddish newspaper:

She made a profit for a Jewish charity. Mintzer, her biographer, was puzzled. Raisa was a Jewish celebrity. So don’t the Catholic authorities require proof of her conversion before allowing her burial in a consecrated site? Could not find record.

vintage chicago tribune

every week

The Vintage Tribune newsletter is a deep dive into the Chicago Tribune archives, featuring photos and stories about the people, places and events that shape Chicago’s past, present and future.

In 1983, Mintzer visited Raisa’s daughter Giulietta, known as Jolie. “Are you interested in my mother’s later years and her funeral?” she asked. Jolie, who knew the end was near, said Raisa wanted to lie down next to her dead husband.

Italian opera star Madame Rosa Raisa and her daughter Giulietta Rimini in Chicago's Congress Hotel in 1938.

Rimini was Jewish on the one hand and Catholic on the other, but identified with Catholicism. As such, he was buried in a consecrated site in Verona, Italy.

Raisa was interested in the intersection of different faiths. Once she asked Claudia Cassidy’s Irish husband if there was a Jewish paradise. “Of course,” he replied. You can visit “

For some reason, Jolie was unable to send her mother’s remains to Verona. But she found a way to express Raisa’s spiritual commitment.

Jolie collected some of her mother’s favorite Jewish artifacts and buried Raisa under a cross-carved tombstone in a Catholic cemetery. Inside her coffin were, as some say, a Star of David, a Torah scroll, and a picture of her parents whom Raisa kissed every night before she went to bed.

Got ideas for a vintage Chicago Tribune? Share them with Ron Grossman and Marianne Mather. and


What do you think?

Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

Leave a Reply

The podcast co-hosts Swisher and Galloway.

Bulls point guard Ayo Dosunmu needs to find a way to come back offensively