ROSA RAISA: The Complete Recordings
Marston 53001-2 (3 CDs) (F) (ADD) TT: 76:30 76:02 74:46
A major issue for opera fans. Polish soprano Rosa Raisa (1893-1963) made her debut when only 20 and soon was singing in major opera houses throughout the world to highest critical acclaim. A favorite at La Scala, she sang often with Arturo Toscanini. In that opera house she sang two world premieres with Toscanini conducting. The first was Boito's Nerone in 1924. After hearing Raisa rehearsing this, Puccini offered her the title role in Turandot which she premiered two years later. Raisa suggested to him that he "put in plenty of high Cs," which he probably would have done anyway. It is fascinating that Puccini also wished her to sing the premiere of another of his operas, one quite different from Turandot, La Rondine, which would not fit into her schedule. This was in 1916, when Raisa was only 23, almost a decade before Turandot.
Raisa's voice is similar in many ways to Rosa Ponselle's in its richness throughout the entire range, support on the lower end, and dark texture. Unlike Ponselle, she had a secure, ringing top C, and according to all reports her voluminous voice filled the largest opera house. There was no competition between the two famous sopranos; they were great friends. Raisa's roles were varied including Verdi (Ballo, La Battaglia di Legnano, Aïda, Il trovatore, Ernani); Mozart (Don Giovanni, Magic Flute); Puccini (La fanciulla del West, Tosca, Turandot, Suor Angelica); Giordano (Andrea Chenier); Ponchielli (La Gioconda); Meyerbeer (Les Huguenots); Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana); Bellini (Norma), and many others.
Like Ponselle, Raisa retired far too early, in 1938, at the age of 45. This superb Marston set offers all of her recordings: the 1917 Pathé "Paper-label" discs, Aeolian vocalion "Hill and Dale Recordings" from 1918, Vocalion "Lateral Recordings" from 1920-23, 1928-29 Brunswick recordings made in Chicago, Voce Del Padrone Milan recordings of 1933, Vitaphone Soundtracks made in New York in 1926, and a lengthy interview with Studs Terkel recorded in 1959. Raisa was critical of her recordings feeling they never captured her sound, but perhaps she was too demanding. Vocal glories abound on these CD. It was a major omission on the part of the recording companies that she did not record anything from one of her most famous roles, Turandot. Many arias were recorded several times, all fascinating to hear. Her "Suicidio" rivals Ponselle's, her Norma arias set the standard for the role to be equalled only by Ponselle seven years later. Raisa's voice is full, flexible, and solid from bottom to top, her trill assured - there is no singer today with the quality of Rosa Raisa. In spite of all of the operatic glories, one of the most moving performances in the set is the traditional Yiddish Eili, Eili, recorded in 1918. Also included are some duets recorded with her husband, baritone Giacomo Rimini, a fine singer in his own right.
Ward Marston's transfers from the various sources are miraculous; he is listed in the booklet as in charge of "audio conservation," and has done his work well. Charles Mintzer, a long-time friend and admirer, has written fascinating notes offering many insights into Raisa's life and career. This is a valuable set and everyone involved deserves the highest commendation. Three full-priced CDs is a rather hefty outlay for most collectors; perhaps Marston will eventually issue a single CD representative of Rosa Raisa's artistry.