Sometimes, I select a singer who is little known today but who, in her time, was considered a great, great classical singer. Rosa Raisa (May 30 , 1893 – September 28 , 1963) was a Polish-born and Italian-trained Russian-Jewish dramatic operatic soprano who became a naturalized American. She possessed a voice of remarkable power and was the creator of the title role of Puccini’s last opera, Turandot, at La Scala, Milan.

Raisa herself is believed to have described her recording sessions thus: she had to move further and further from the horn, and sometimes she even had to face the wall because of the size of her voice.

These recordings are over a hundred years old, and many of them have poor sound. I have tried to pick recordings where the listener could get a sense of what the voice was.

This version of the duet in Trovatore has had so many cuts and reshuffling of verses that it no longer resembles what is in the score. I have tried to give you the Italian as they sing it as opposed to what is written in the score.

LEONORA
Quel suon, quelle preci
solenne funeste
con ali di tenebre
librando si va!
Contende l’ambacia
Che tutta m’investe
Al labro il respiro
Il palpiti al cor

MANRICO
Ah che la morte ognora
È tarda nel venir
A chi desia morir
Addio! Addio, Leonora, addio

LEONORA
Sull’orida torre
Ahi! Par che la morte
con ali di tenebre
Librando si va!
A forse dischiuse
Gli fian queste porte
Sul quando cadaver già freddo
Sará.

MANRICO
Sconto col sangue mio!
L’amor che posi in te
Non ti scordar di me
Leonora, addio, Leonora, addio, addio.

LEONORA
Di te, di te scordarmi!

LEONORA
That sound, those prayers,
so solemn and dire,
with wings of darkness
to be poised!
The distress
that fills me almost deprives
my lips of their breath,
my heart of its beating!

MANRICO
Ah! how slow Death
is in its coming,
to him who longs to die!
Farewell! Farewell, Addio, Leonora, farewell!

LEONORA
Over the horrid tower,
ah, Death seems
with wings of darkness
to be poised!
Ah, perhaps these doors
will be opened for him,
only when his corpse
is already cold!

MANRICO
I’m paying with my blood
for the love I bore you!
Don’t forget, don’t forget me,
Leonora, farewell, Leonora, farewell!

LEONORA
How could I forget you! How could I forget you!

O Patria Mia

O patria mia, mai più ti rivedrò!
Mai più! mai più ti rivedrò!
O cieli azzurri o dolci aure native
Dove sereno il mio mattin brillò
O verdi colli o profumate rive
O patria mia, mai più ti rivedrò!
Mai più! no, no, mai più, mai più!
O fresche valli, o queto asil beato
Che un di promesso dall’amor mi fu
Or che d’amore il sogno è dileguato
O patria mia, non ti vedrò mai più.
O patria mia, mai più ti rivedrò!

O My Homeland

Oh my homeland, I will never see you again!
No more! never see you again!
Oh blue skies and gentle breezes of my village
Where the calm morning shone
O green hills and perfumed shores
O my homeland, I will never see you again!
No more! no, no, never again, never again!
Oh cool valleys, and blessed refuge
What a promise to me by my love
Now that the dream of love has vanished
O my homeland, I will not see you again.
Oh my homeland, I will never see you again!

Casta Diva

Casta Diva, che inargenti
Queste sacre antiche piante
A noi volgi il bel sembiante
Senza nube e senza vel

Ah! bello a me ritorna
Del raggio tuo sereno
E vita nel tuo seno
E patria e cielo avrò
Ah, riedi ancora qual eri allora
Quando il cor ti diedi allora
Ah, riedi a me

Chaste Goddess

Chaste Goddess, whose silver covers
These sacred ancient plants,
we turn to your lovely face
unclouded and without veil…

Ah! Come back to me my beautiful one
along with your serene radiance
and life in your breast,
and I’ll have homeland and sky.
Ah, come back again as you were then,
then when I gave you my heart,
Ah, come back to me.

Ernani, involami!

Ernani!… Ernani, involami
all’aborrito amplesso.
Fuggiam… se teco vivere
mi sia d’amor concesso,
per antri e lande inospite
ti seguirà il mio piè.
Un Eden di delizia
saran quegli antri a me.

Ernani, take me away!

Ernani! … Ernani, take me away
from the abhorred embrace.
Let’s flee … if I live with you
Grant that I be in love,
for inhospitable caverns and lands
my foot will follow you.
An Eden of delight
will be those caves to me.

Un bel di vedremo

Un bel di vedremo
levarsi un fil di fumo sull’estremo confin del mare.
E poi la nave appare.
Poi la nave bianca entra nel porto,
romba il suo saluto.
Vedi? È venuto!
Io non gli scendo incontro. Io no.
Mi metto là sul ciglio del colle
e aspetto, e aspetto gran tempo e non mi pesa
la lunga attesa.
E… uscito dalla folla cittadina
un uom, un picciol punto
s’avvia per la collina.
Chi sarà? Chi sarà?
E come sarà giunto?
Che dirà? Che dirà?
Chiamera Butterfly dalla lontana.
Io senza dar risposta
me ne staro nascosta
un po’ per celia e un po’ per non morire al primo incontro,
ed egli alquanto in pena chiamerà, chiamerà:
“Piccina mogliettina, olezzo di verbena,”
i nomi che mi dava al suo venire.
Tutto questo avverà, te lo prometto.
Tienti la tua paura, – io con sicura fede l’aspetto.

One fine day we shall see

One fine day we shall see
a wisp smoke rising over the furthest edge of the sea.
And then the ship appears.
Then the white ship comes into the port,
thunders its salute.
Do you see? It has arrived!
I don’t go down to meet him. I don’t.
I stand there on the edge of the hill
and wait, and wait for a long time and
the long wait won’t be tiresome.
And… having left the city crowd
a man, a little1 dot
sets off up the hill.
Who will it be? Who will it be?
And when he will he be close?
What will he say? What will he say?
He’ll call “Butterfly” from afar.
Without responding
I will remain hidden
partly as a joke and partly so as not to die at the first meeting,
and he, somewhat distressed, will call, will call:
“tiny little bride, scent of verbena,”
the names he gave me when he first came.
All this will come true, I promise.
Hold on to your fear. I wait for him with sure faith.

D’amor sull’ali rosee

Timor di me ?…sicura,
presta è la mia difesa.
In quest’ oscura
notte ravvolta, presso a te son io,
e tu nol sai…Gemente
aura che intorno spiri,
deh, pietosa gli arreca
i miei sospiri…

D’ amor sull’ ali rosee
vanne, sospir dolente:
del prigioniero misero
conforta l’ egra mente…
Com’ aura di speranza
aleggia in quella stanza:
lo desta alle memorie,
ai sogni dell’amor!
Ma deh! non dirgli improvvido,
le pene del mio cor!

On the rosy wings of love

Afraid of me ?…surely,
ready is my defense.
His eyes are attracted by a stone
she wears on her right hand.
Wrapped in the dark
night, I am near you,
and you don’t know it…
Wailing wind,
carry to him, mercifully, my sighs…

On the rosy wings of love
go, oh mournful sigh;
comfort the flagging spirits
of the wretched prisoner.
Like a breath of hope
flutter in that room;
waken in him the memories,
to the the dreams of love.
But, pray, don’t imprudently tell him
the pangs, the pangs that rack my heart!

Rosa Raisa

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.”