Raisa was born Rosa Burchstein in Bialystock. When she was 14 she fled to escape a pogrom and settled in Napels. She studied with Barbara Marchisio and made her debut at Parma in the Verdi Centenary Oberto, being immediately invited by Cleofonte Campanini at Chicago Opera. She achieved instant success in Chicago, Philadelphia and on national tours. She remained in Chicago and was its leading dramatic soprano. Mary Garden reigned in the lyric parts. Giacomo Puccini wanted her to sing Magda in La Rondine, but she refused. Rosa Raisa sang 275 performances in Chicago and 235 on tours. She inaugurated the newly built Chicago Opera House in 1929 as Aida. She was very proud of her three Toscanini La Scala seasons (1924 – 1926) where she created Asteria in Boito’s Nerone and Puccini’s Turandot (unfortunately, she recorded no excerpts). She also appeared as Leonora in Il Trovatore, an opera last heard there in 1902. She was married to the baritone Giacomo Rimini. They appeared in many concerts singing duets from Luisa Miller to Don Pasquale. Her repertoire included roles in operas such as Norma, La Juive, La Fanciulla del West, Suor Angelica, Un Ballo in Maschera, La Battaglia di Legnano, Francesca da Rimini, Falstaff, Don Giovanni, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Les Huguenots, Lo Schiavo, Isabeau, La Nave, Die Fledermaus and Respighi’s La Fiamma. She was under-employed by the recording companies (no contract to the superior New York based Victor or Columbia).
Recordings probably never captured her huge voice in an adequate way. Claudia Cassidy, a renowned critic of The Chicago Tribune said: “Raisa’s voice struck straight at two vulnerable places: the spinal column and the heart.” The artist herself was never satisfied with her recordings. “They never showed the volume of my voice – just a faint remembrance of how I sounded on the stage – in my days recording was much more difficult than it is today.”
Charles B. Mintzer, an expert on Rosa Raisa, explained: “Regarding the recordings, one can only speculate what the results might have been if the 1928 Vocalion vertical-cut recordings, which best capture her vocal resource, and the 1933 HMVs her dramatic delivery, had been combined. The 1920 – 1924 lateral-cut Vocalions made in her prime are so inadequately recorded that one “sees” only a blueprint lacking in textures and overtones… It is true that very large and brilliant voices have always been difficult to capture on record.”