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Rosa Raisa, in Chicago for the restoration of the Auditorium Theater, reflects on her career

BROADCAST: Dec. 13, 1961 | DURATION: 00:21:03


Studs Terkel interviews soprano Rosa Raisa about her career in Opera.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel On that on that 78 or something. It's a 78 an old Brunswick recording and yet a lustrous talent comes alive and true, the voice of our guest this morning a very gracious guest who's been here before. Madame Rosa Raisa, was appearing in Chicago on behalf of the how about I say resurrection, restoration of the Auditorium Theater building. Madame Raisa, in listening uh to your voice as Leonora and the Forza del Destino in this aria.

Rosa Raisa Well I go back with a great nostalgia of the wonderful days when I sang it in the great Auditorium Theater, a theater that should be restored and I want it restored. I want the Chicagoans to help me, eh restore this great monument with the most wonderful acoustic that I've ever sang and I sang in many beautiful theaters and great theaters like Colon Buenos Aires, Covent Garden London and Scala in Milan, but I have never sang. And yet acoustics in the Auditorium.

Studs Terkel Acoustics.

Rosa Raisa Like at the Auditorium.

Studs Terkel As, as you talk about this Madame Raisa we will return to this theme of the Auditorium.

Rosa Raisa Yeah.

Studs Terkel I think for many people who were listening, who had never been inside the Auditorium Theater.

Rosa Raisa Mhmm.

Studs Terkel Many of the younger listeners, uh perhaps as you recall uh certain memories of yourself and of colleagues singing it will become alive and rich again in in in their minds. I was thinking of this uh the role that you played here, this is at old Brunswick record and yet.

Rosa Raisa An old Brunswick record and I remember when I used to make these records of course my voice was B you know and I always had to go far in distance when I took the B flat pianissimo, I had to be very far away and of course when I took a high B you know forte I had to turn all the way down with my face to the wall. But anyhow, uh now hearing it after so many years and I was never pleased with my records because it never showed my voice to its full uh value. And just the skeleton of it. But you can hear the quality of which I'm very proud, I shouldn't speak about myself really I didn't come here to talk about myself. I came here to talk about the Auditorium theater.

Studs Terkel And as you speak as eloquently as you do Madame Raisa of the Auditorium, if we can think now from the standpoint of the artist what does it mean when you were on the stage let us say, uh sometimes in some hows there may be a need to force a voice.

Rosa Raisa Oh I never forced anything. I could always sing in the Auditorium. The acoustic was so wonderful all I had is to whisper and it just flew the voice. I could have had the most terrible cold, I could I could always sing at the Auditorium, I didn't have to force and easier to sang the better you're heard. I remember one performance of Melba and McCormick and there wasn't a seat to be gotten for a million dollars. Well, I thought I just was curious you know like a young primadonna to go up and hear what they sounded like. I went after the last seat in the gallery. And believe me you could hear perfect. It sounded like a Stradivarius in that Auditorium and in that Auditorium when you used to go out and see those boxes side of you and in front of you. I knew every subscriber, I knew everyone where they were sitting because they showed and there was that fluid between artist and stage.

Studs Terkel There was the rapport then.

Rosa Raisa Yes there was a connection.

Studs Terkel You say that m- I didn't realize that Nellie Melba then sang up the Auditorium.

Rosa Raisa Yes Nellie Melba.

Studs Terkel With Mc- Was this uh it Traviata or Boheme?

Rosa Raisa No it was Boheme.

Studs Terkel Boheme.

Rosa Raisa And my husband sang uh, uh Marcello [Laughs.] Good for him.

Studs Terkel Giacomo Rimini.

Rosa Raisa Giacomo Rimini.

Studs Terkel Is an excellent baritone.

Rosa Raisa Is my late husband.

Studs Terkel As far as, as far as the history of the Auditorium and before your time, I was into Adelina Patti I understand it was who.

Rosa Raisa Oh yes.

Studs Terkel Who, who sang the very opening night.

Rosa Raisa Well that's before my time.

Studs Terkel Yes.

Rosa Raisa She sang the opening gate.

Studs Terkel If.

Rosa Raisa In '89 and Miss Mason closed the, the theater with Romeo and Juliet and then I inaugurated with Aida at the Civic Opera.

Studs Terkel Ah the Civic Opera.

Rosa Raisa The Civic Opera.

Studs Terkel If we may, we may hear the voice of Patty. This was the begin-.

Rosa Raisa Yes, please.

Studs Terkel This was the night before I believe Romeo and Juliet opened there was a special night.

Rosa Raisa Uh huh.

Studs Terkel And she sang "Home Sweet Home" I believe, "Comin' Thro The Rye."

Rosa Raisa Oh yes, fine I'd like to hear it.[Beep].

Studs Terkel We hear this voice despite the uh the scratch.

Rosa Raisa Yes isn't that wonderful?

Studs Terkel Madame Raisa, as you say this again I'm indirect because I'm, I'm thinking it was him. You mentioned colleagues and I'm sure when you think of this building you visited and you think of colleagues and I think immediately of someone, with whom you were associated there, uh Claudia Muzio.

Rosa Raisa Oh yes, what a great artist she was. I'll never forget her. Now, the beautiful golden toes of Claudia Muzio there and a, a great artist whom I have admired for many many years. It's nice to know now I heard her I was still studying at the conservatory in Naples and that was, that was a great artist now, those great artist, those golden days of opera, of course it's hard to think of those days.

Studs Terkel She was known as a, a remarkable actress too wasn't she?

Rosa Raisa Oh she was a wonderful actress, a beautiful voice, a great singer and a beautiful woman.

Studs Terkel If we may perhaps again, thinking of this building and Traviata.

Rosa Raisa Yes.

Studs Terkel And the last act.

Rosa Raisa Oh nobody likes.

Studs Terkel Reading of the letter.

Rosa Raisa Oh that reading of the letter is something that still penetrates into your heart and soul.

Studs Terkel And thus here the acting and the singing.

Rosa Raisa Oh it's something that really can't help having tears your eyes to think of those days and think all this beautiful sounds in that Auditorium, it sounded like melted gold.

Studs Terkel Madame Raisa, uh thinking of uh pride, we also think again of the connection with the artists of the past.

Rosa Raisa Oh my goodness, my memories.

Studs Terkel Schipa, you worked with with a.

Rosa Raisa Oh yes.

Studs Terkel With Tito Schipa too?

Rosa Raisa I sang with Schipa, Don Giovanni. He sang the melody of Don Ottavio and I sang Donna Anna and I remember, of course he was a short fellow, great singer but short and he used to put some heels in the shoes.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Rosa Raisa And uh well he still looked short and I sang Tuska with him. A great singer, he, he was just divine. You know Schipa with his he didn't have a voice like Caruso or like [Gedda?] but he had, he had 50 percent, let's say a voice. He made it believe it was a hundred and spent twenty five of his hand and jiffies.

Studs Terkel How was that?. This is an interesting point.

Rosa Raisa Oh he always sang with such taste, benissimo and oh it was divine really.

Studs Terkel Tenor of Schipa.

Rosa Raisa Ah, he's divine, my what memories.

Studs Terkel Other voices too?

Rosa Raisa Yeah.

Studs Terkel We think of Galli-Curci those being associated with the Metropolitan Opera Company. Yet she sang at the Auditorium herself.

Rosa Raisa Oh my goodness she made her debut at that Auditorium on a Saturday afternoon in Rigoletto. My husband sang the jester and it was a sensation that woman came out and after the Rigoletto, I saw the whole public standing up.

Studs Terkel What was it about Galli-Curci really?.

Rosa Raisa Uh she was.

Studs Terkel Now there were times when she.

Rosa Raisa She was an artist, she was musical.

Studs Terkel What was it about her voice?

Rosa Raisa Flute, it was like a flute and those staccatos in her thrill. It was just like, like a birds singing. She was a real, a hundred percent and soul and personality on the stage.

Studs Terkel Your, your husband Giacomo Rimini is known only for his Rigoletto but his, and as I, from what I remember reading his great role was Falstaff.

Rosa Raisa Oh yes his Falstaffian, Toscanini by the way taught him the role and and he sang it at La Scala in Milan and many times and here of course he was really very easy recording the score of it and it really very beautiful once in a while. Of course, I makes me very sad to, to listen because it calls back beautiful memories and sad memories. But this is life, we have to take it as it comes and once in a while I kind of like to go back to those days. I hear and it's really a beautiful thing.

Studs Terkel You know that phrase Madam Raisa? A life is short, art is long?

Rosa Raisa Oh, art never finishes

Studs Terkel Art is not.

Rosa Raisa It's up to us a generation to maintain it. And, and music and a taste of music has grown. I came here in November, 1913 and I can see the improvement, I can see the development. Well, now we have our own artists, they don't have to go to a theater to study. There is plenty of space, plenty of place for them theaters to, to sing and there are many beautiful talents, if they would always be given a chance.

Studs Terkel That's something you raise. I was listening in the very beginning as we heard you doing the aria Leonoras from uh La forza del destino, you did, there was something you did toward the end that was quite remarkable.

Rosa Raisa A little turn if you.

Studs Terkel I wonder in this matter of the training today.

Rosa Raisa Oh well that was straining years of study which they don't do today and now that little turn believe me, I spent lots of time to make it, you know even and smooth and, and it sounds very nice. And it this very young generation they don't take your trouble to study. They want overnight, they want to go to the Met or to La Scala.

Studs Terkel So you feel this.

Rosa Raisa Takes years of training. I studied five consecutive years every day summer and winter.

Studs Terkel So this is the big problem you feel today is this, uh.

Rosa Raisa Yes.

Studs Terkel This rush. There's too much rush.

Rosa Raisa When I made my debut, I was about sure what I was going to do and when I started in November, 1913 at the Centenary, Verdi Centenary and uh the first performance, the inauguration of the season which just to think of it makes my legs shiver you know and I could hardly wait to go out there. They had to hold me by the arm and not to go out. I just wanted to go out and sing. I knew that I for sure what I was doing because I was prepared. And that's the way they should be today, which they are not.

Studs Terkel And thus it was with uh Galli-Curci, we may hear just a passage from her.

Rosa Raisa Yes, I loved her.

Studs Terkel From her Caro nome.

Rosa Raisa Oh fine, that was beautiful. My, what a breath control on what divine singing. I remember her, I sang with de la couche South American Colon at the Rosenkavalier and she was Sophie. Beautiful and I was Marschallin. And then when I came here and they gave Rosenkavalier here I had to restudy the part in German and Sophie was [speaking German] I'll never forget those high tones, it was just like diamonds. Gorgeous.

Studs Terkel I didn't realize.

Rosa Raisa I can never hear anybody, yes.

Studs Terkel You had done the Marschallin?

Rosa Raisa I have done the Marschallin many performances and to Polacco who was conducting, Maestro Polacco. Great conductor, a great friend, and a great wonderful person.

Studs Terkel And you spoke of Polacco I think of the Madame.

Rosa Raisa Yeah.

Studs Terkel Edith Mason too.

Rosa Raisa Mhmm.

Studs Terkel And she did Sophie. We think of one, one soprano to another.

Rosa Raisa Oh she, I can not, not hear anybody else when I hear that C-sharp you know, in the second act, I always, it uh, Edith's tones always ring my ear.

Studs Terkel You spoke of as you were listening to, to Galli-Curci you were speaking, you said like a flute.

Rosa Raisa Oh like a flute. You know when uh she was singing a South American, that was before she made her debut. And when she was a gauge at last of course company didn't want her because she'd never heard her and he didn't want to engage in and then he decided well, they boosted her so much that he engaged her for just two performances. And when she sang the general rehearsals, singing in full was the kind of moment. Maestro company engaged her immediately for five years and he came home, he said, "Raisa what did you tell me she was singing flat, then she was singing a little flat."

Studs Terkel Hm.

Rosa Raisa Well, that woman will make a sensation tomorrow [laughs] and Saturday afternoon and he was right, while she was singing flat in Bodensee. But uh she corrected it and she was perfect. She was perfect when she made her debut for years.

Studs Terkel Thinking of the, of the variety of roles that aside from memory remembering your colleagues, the singers with whom you're formed. Uh Marschallin, I was aware you did but I know that you, you were created the role of Turandot.

Rosa Raisa Oh yes, I was the first one to create it in 1920, May 1926 at La Scala, Toscanini, conducting. And I remember Puccini came on the stage during a rehearsal of Nerone and Nerone was uh given after 25 years, after Boito died and Toscanini promised him that he would give this opera and that was a great advantage 25 years. And Puccini did came on the stage and he wanted to listen to some of the rehearsal. So, here we were talking and while we were talking he told me, Raise I'm writing an opera, which I can hear you and see you and I want you to be the first one to create it so naturally, I thanked him. I felt honored and so on and so forth. And the end of that year in November, he unfortunately passed away. And in 1925 it was in December, I received a cable from La Scala, Toscanini asking me would I create Turandot. And naturally I was delighted and proud and happy to, to do that. But I had a long contract on tour and you know on tour when one name is announced, dead or alive you have to be there. So I went to the manager and asked him to be released a month ahead of time and he said it was impossible because those days they would guarantee 13,000 dollars a performance and then they announced my name and I had to sing. So we'll make the story short at the end of the tour. I uh rushed to him in Milano on the boat and meanwhile they send this course so I could study it and, and tour you know on my off days. When I arrived there I was ready for my rehearsals. And what an experience that was I can assure you.

Studs Terkel Where was this debut of Turandot? Where was it?

Rosa Raisa La Scala in Milan.

Studs Terkel It was in Milan? La Scala.

Rosa Raisa And uh the first performance did last duet was not given which was written, it was finished by our panel. Puccini only wrote to the death of Liu. Then he stopped, he put his bottle on the stand and he turned to the public and announced. And here the maestro died and did consecutive performances, we sang a duet. He never liked a duet in which really does not click with Puccini's music but it, it goes anyhow. Puccini, he could have written God knows what a beautiful duet, he would have written. Anyhow, unfortunately he passed away and his death which is so pathetic and you know I can't remember the feeling. I stood there naturally, which is the moment that she's supposed to stand there and attack the duet, which wasn't done. I stood there and I could feel in the air the grief at the whole theater. Well, that night people were just hanging on their chandeliers. so packed it was the theater. It was a great night we shall never forget. Now let's go back to the Auditorium.

Studs Terkel Yes, if we may.

Rosa Raisa That's what I hope to persuade the people. What can be done and to help the Auditorium. This is my dream. I'm going back full of hope. People should do it on their own, will just sending check.

Studs Terkel If we may, we opened, we opened with uh your voice in uh La Forza del destino. I know one of your, one of your favorite roles was that of Desdemona, in a Otello.

Rosa Raisa Oh yes, used to love to sing Desdemona. It was one of my first operas that I studied. And I remember my poor father, he came to hear me. He sat in a box and after the performance when I came to you know the Congress and I used to go from the Congress, from the theater, through the uh tunnel, made up and go to my apartment and my father was sitting there on the couch and he expresses, "Oh Raisa, that prayer in the last act", he said I'll never forget. Maybe he was partial.

Studs Terkel Mhmm.

Rosa Raisa But I, I think it is a nice thing.

Studs Terkel But did your father get excited, didn't sometimes get excited when Othello.

Rosa Raisa Exactly.

Studs Terkel Othello was, was choking?

Rosa Raisa Excited. He walked out one night when I sang Otello in the last act when Otello chokes Desdemona and when he heard you know, saw choking me he yelled and he walked out of the box. He couldn't see it.

Studs Terkel [Laughs].

Rosa Raisa And in Gioconda when they threw me down you know and I had a beautiful duet with my husband, that sang Barnaba and he used to take me from the floor stage. He used to raise me right straight like a stick and then whispered a few words, he says. And now he says, "I'm vindicated" and he used to throw me like that you know, like a piece of rock and I would fall down and really, how I didn't break my neck I don't know and the people would just gasp. And my father came home, he was terrorized.

Studs Terkel [Laughs].

Rosa Raisa How can you let your wife like that, she could have broken her neck. I said Papa, you know but he must do it, my husband Giacomo must do.

Studs Terkel [Laughs].

Rosa Raisa Because the part requires it, it's the effect of the opera, of the moment. He said, "I don't care effect or not effect, is your husband then he should make the grappa."

Studs Terkel He shouldn't have beat you that way.

Rosa Raisa While on the floor.

Rosa Raisa Well happen when you was Tosca, jumped off the roof?

Rosa Raisa Oh my goodness, Tasca, well I, I don't have to tell you. He came once after the second act, it was in New York then we performed at Manhattan and it was such a fiery performance, I sang the second act with the baklan off you know. And I mean the baklan, a great Scarpia.

Studs Terkel Sure.

Rosa Raisa And when I finished the second act, it was just one of those fiery afternoons, Saturday afternoon you know enthusiasm and we took it three or four you know, really, really it sounded real you know. And my father after the second act, he came backstage. Nobody was allowed to come there during the performance, but they let him pass because he said I'm the father of Rosa Raisa, they let him go through. He came backstage and he hugged me, he said, "Raisa, I am so happy you killed that monster."

Studs Terkel [Laughs]. Did you tell him there was a mattress when you jumped off the roof?

Rosa Raisa Well sometimes I didn't have a mattress.

Studs Terkel Oh you didn't have a mattress?

Rosa Raisa And I pretended I had but I would jump down you know with all my imagination that as though really I was jumping the Castle Sant'Angelo of Rome you know. But uh, I'd sometimes I didn't have it but I didn't break my leg, that's, that's that's really luck.

Studs Terkel Acting and singing are the.

Rosa Raisa You know on the stage many things happen and they pay attention. I remember one performance of Tosca. And the Vissi d'arte I had Polacco conducting and I head into the Vissi d'arte before the B-flat. That was in Ravinia Park. And you know mosquitoes and flies and my goodness I sort of fly just turn and you know running around my mouth and I said that fly will give me trouble. When the B-flat came, she just came to my mouth, I swallowed a fly.

Studs Terkel [Laughs].

Rosa Raisa And I wouldn't spoil my B-flat. Believe me.

Studs Terkel [Laughs].

Rosa Raisa I still can feel the taste of that B-flat, any people you can imagine.

Studs Terkel [Laughs].

Rosa Raisa That is something.

Studs Terkel It is such a B-flat. Um Rosa Raisa, I know you have another engagement and you've been very kind. We did time and we know why you are here and I'm sure that everyone appreciates this, everyone connected with the Auditorium Theater council as well as Chicagoans who like music and art generally. So as we say goodbye now, perhaps to hear your voice singing the last part of the Ave Maria.

Rosa Raisa It is, it is not goodbye, I will be here again.

Studs Terkel For now.

Rosa Raisa And I want all my friends, all the people of Chicago to be with me and what they're doing. If they love me I know they love me and they do much for me too, to help me go through this.

Studs Terkel But for now we say, for now we say.

Rosa Raisa Oh you want to hear?

Studs Terkel But we're going to.

Rosa Raisa That's Ave Maria.

Studs Terkel And these are the voice, perhaps voices sound like this, we will hear again.

Rosa Raisa Yes I.

Studs Terkel Hear them.

Rosa Raisa Loved to hear it.

Studs Terkel This is it.

Rosa Raisa Thank you very much.

Studs Terkel Thank you very much Madame Raisa.

Rosa Raisa It has been a very pleasant hour for me with you to talk again. And, and very happy to reminisce the beautiful days, beautiful year of my beautiful years. I would say over my career, uh which keep me going and make me feel young again and uh happy.