LINA BRUNA RASA (born, Padua, 1907 died, Milan, 1984)
Some of the greatest opera singers in history have ended their careers prematurely due to fate. One of these such singers was the Italian dramatic soprano Lina Bruna Rasa. Many may be aware of Bruna Rasa’s sad story, which ended in October 1984 in Milan, where few people participated in the funeral of an old woman who had lived for almost 40 years in a mental institute. The old woman had very few friends and almost nobody remembered her when she died. She had spent her last 36 years in silence as her mental state deteriorated. She had fewer and fewer lucid moments of recalling how it had been on the stage… when the public adored her… when she had been Toscanini and Mascagni’s favorite soprano, once.
Born in September 1907, in Padua, Lina began her music studies at the age of 14 and debuted at 17. The role at her debut in 1925 was Elena in Boito’s Mefistofele with the reputable Maria Zamboni and Ezio Pinza. From then on, the legend began. She performed all over Italy and co-starred some of the best Italian tenors of the 1920s (Aureliano Pertile, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Alessandro Zilliani and Beniamino Gigli). The great Toscanini immediately noted and engaged her for a number of stage performances at La Scala and other big theaters.
The collaboration between Bruna Rasa and Mascagni deserves special mention. They first met in 1928 and, since that date, Mascagni supported her to the end of her career. She was his favurite Santuzza and, according to many, one of the best in history. Santuzza was her most successful and performed role under the baton of the composer himself.
Bruna Rasa performed with enormous success in Cavalleria Rusticana, Tosca, Aida, Nerone, Mefistofele, Fedora, Andrea Chenier and La Forza Del Destino. The drama began in late 1931 at only 24 years of age when a severe depression forced her to cancel some scheduled performances. The following year, she suffered a panic attack when Mascagni turned the baton over to Benvenuti Giusti for three performances of Cavalleria Rusticana. Mascagni took care of her during the rest of her career, arranging contracts and convincing her that she was still able to sing. In 1933, her stage partners began to notice her illness. The performances became sporadic.
Her mother died in 1935. Lina felt that her only “anchor” to the real world was gone and her delicate mental state became seriously affected. A memorable event took place in 1937 when she performed in Tosca at Castel San Giovanni in front of several fascist officers. At the end of the romanza, Vissi d’arte, when the ovations were tremendous, she raised from the stage floor and revealed an Italian flag! The public was in rapture, except the Nazi officials.
She still gave memorable performances, as the one in 1940, at the fiftieth anniversary of Cavallleria Rusticana, when she also recorded the opera together with Gigli and Bechi. Her voice was at the peak and she never had what we usually call a “vocal decline”. Her mental illness did not allow her to sing and act. At the time, she already had serious problems in remembering the lyrics. It was the last straw of her short career. People remember that, when offstage, she was apathetic and kept silent for hours. It seems that she reacted positively only to the public’s affection and ovations. She was a miracle on the stage! From 1942 onwards, she remained in a mental institution in Milan.
The artists, who sang with her, described a very special and unforgettable experience. In his own words, tenor Enzo De Muro Lomanto said: “The experience of singing Turiddu with Lina Bruna Rasa was comparable to nothing else in my long experience on the lyric theatre. She made all of us want to be just that much better, and I think we were”. This makes you wonder where the artistic inspiration ends and madness begins.