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Rosa Raisa reflects on her career and her time in Chicago

BROADCAST: Nov. 6, 1959 | DURATION: 00:49:21


Renowned soprano, Madame Rosa Raisa discusses her career, early training, Chicago debuts, travels, teaching, and hobbies post opera.


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


Rosa Raisa [content removed, see catalog record] There is an encyclopedia, you know?

Studs Terkel Madame Raisa?

Rosa Raisa Yes?

Studs Terkel I'm just thinking as we're listening to the "I vespri sicilani" of Verdi's, the voice here is a young soprano, about 24 years old, a rich, full soprano that was exciting the world. Do you remember your feelings when you, Madame Rosa Raisa is our guest, [unintelligible].

Rosa Raisa Well, I remember when I used to study this aria in the Conservatory in Naples with my great teacher, Barbara Marchisio, and I remember that I used to study these passages, oh, every day. And even when I sang it in concert already, and having it at a program, and many times I had to sing it as an encore, still the next day I would go to my apartment, and still go to the piano, and still go through certain passages and I was never satisfied. But I must say it sounds really pretty good. I'm pleased with the coloratura work I did but that didn't come in one day. Well, that came with the practice and the years of work which unfortunately they don't do today. Today they want to become great artists, great singers overnight and they don't study. And naturally, with radio and television they don't need all that training. But it's too bad. But we still have very fine talents in the United States.

Studs Terkel We'll come to that as we go along, Madame Raisa. This is your return to Chicago, you're living in California now.

Rosa Raisa Well, I would still live here because Chicago is my home and it has been since October--November 1913. Right after my debut in Parma, Italy, Conductor Campanini, I came to the United States and I was engaged by him and he brought me to Chicago and I made my debut here in November 1913. And Chicago, from the first day I have arrived, has been my home. You have opened your arms and you still love me and I still love the people, my friends of Chicago. In fact, I come here every year although I live in California on account my family moved out over there. I naturally felt that my place was to be with my daughter, my son-in-law, and my two adorable grandchildren that I live for. But Chicago is always deep in my heart, has been for all these years, and it always will be. And I will always come back to Chicago. My friends say, "Oh, Raisa, you always find some kind of an excuse to go to Chicago." Well, this time, first, last summer I came to a wedding of a very dear friend of mine. Her daughter got married, Dr. and Mrs. [Corbridge's?] daughter, a family that I love, that I consider like my own. I came here for the wedding and I was here seasoning for two weeks, telling you, never will I forget. But, still, it was good to be in Chicago. And then when I went back home to California I found a letter from Carol Fox and the Opera Guild that, talking about the gala event evening which was here last Friday--no, last Saturday night.

Studs Terkel Saturday.

Rosa Raisa It was a beautiful evening. And naturally, when I received this letter I couldn't turn them down. If they were that good, if they think that I, my, the memory of the people, of my friends, of the public in Chicago would like to see me and if that could help in this event I certainly would not have let them down. I took my plane and I came over here and here I am. So there is always some kind of an excuse. But what more beautiful excuse could have been than to come to Chicago and celebrate the golden days of opera. But the golden days of opera are not over yet. If not for Carol Fox you wouldn't have opera in Chicago. Who, with her ability as a manager, brought back to you the golden era of opera, giving us great performances and with great artists. So let us show her our gratitude for keeping up the wonderful tradition of opera in Chicago by cooperating and helping her in this great venture. Opera is not only a luxury. Believe me, opera is a necessity. So let's all work hard to help Carol Fox and have great opera in Chicago as you have it now.

Studs Terkel As you say, Madame Raisa, opera is not only a luxury it is a necessity. If we can, if we can sort of, I know that your memories are very vivid; your life has been so rich and full in song and in actual living. Suppose we sort of take a trip, if we may?

Rosa Raisa Fine. [Be?] happy to go back with my memories--

Studs Terkel It's going back, now.

Rosa Raisa Many years back. Well, I made my debut in Parma, as I told you before, and I was immediately engaged with Maestro Campanini, whose memory I still bless, and he brought me here.

Studs Terkel Before you touch Maestro Campanini, I was thinking about yourself, first, as a little girl and singing. The idea of singing.

Rosa Raisa Oh, the singing.

Studs Terkel How this--

Rosa Raisa Well, in Bialystok, Poland it was then under Russian government. Then it went back to Poland after the first war and there I was born and there I was raised until the age of 14 when I [regretted?] I went with my relatives, with my cousins, doctor and his wife, and two children. In fact, one of the children, which is Dr. [Alexander? Victor?], practicing here in Chicago, that I brought from Italy over here. And I went to Italy with his mother and which was my cousin.

Studs Terkel This was to study?

Rosa Raisa To study.

Studs Terkel To study.

Rosa Raisa Well, but, I couldn't study. I started at age of 14 to study in Naples at a Conservatory. And with a great teacher then, Barbara Marchisio, who in her time was, she was in the time of Patti and she was a great singer. There were two sisters: Barbara and Carlotta. Carlotta died giving birth to a boy, her son, died also and she knew she couldn't have children, but anyhow, she wanted this child but after this child was born she died. A very great dramatic soprano. Phenomenal, in the days of Patti, phenomenal. And this Barbara Marchisio was my teacher, who knew about Maestro Campanini. She was always speaking about me and she said, "One day, when Raisa will be ready I want you to hear her." Well, I remember when I went there and I made audition for him in Milano. He was on his way to America and he was sitting there in front of a big wardrobe, you know, with three mirrors and I, with the tail of my eye, I could see the impression when I started to sing. He had a habit to touch his nose with the index; his nose would get, you know, a squeeze and he looked in the mirror and--showing his wife then, Eva Tetrazzini Campanini--how pleased he was. So he squeezed his nose, you know, with satisfaction after the first bars I started. And what did I start with? "Casta diva."

Studs Terkel "Norma."

Rosa Raisa One of the most difficult things to sing. Then I sang "Patria Mia" for him and he said, "That's enough." I said, That's enough," but I said, "Maestro, would you hear me in another aria? I want to sing for you, which I love, "A Masked Ball." "Ecco l'orrido campo." So I sang that and, of course, I wasn't full age so we just shook hands and he said, "I engage you for America, for Chicago," and "You're staying here, prepare the repertoire that I'm giving you to study for Parma," one of the most difficult cities to sing in. "The first opera of Verdi, 'Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio,'" he said, "you study this, you study 'Masked Ball,' you study 'Aida.'" And I will [choose anything to study allowed?]. The early operas, the first operas were [unintelligible]. And so I studied and we shook hands. Of course, understood that when he came back from America I would make my debut at Verdi Centenary. That was September, 1913. As you know, Verdi was born in 1813, and I made my debut in the first act of the first opera of Verdi. But I was young, I didn't realize how important it was to sing in front of such a difficult public. I was home, Madame Tetrazzini Campanini said, "Well, I'll come tonight before the opera starts. I'll be around seven o'clock," [there?] it starts at 9, "and I'll make you up and I want to be in the dressing room with you." So I was sitting in my home and they told me that eggs are very good for the voice, beaten eggs with sugar and Marsala wine. So, I didn't realize how the time went. I was sitting there and beating the two eggs with Marsala wine and powdered sugar and I was looking forward to go to the dressing room in the theater, all of a sudden I realized it was about, oh, seven-thirty, a quarter-of-eight. Madame Campanini went to the dressing room and she didn't find me so she run, came as quick as she could to my home. There I was, quietly, you know, so, no sense of responsibility. And I [unintelligible] those two eggs so I, she waited. I had those two eggs, you know, and we went to the dressing room, she made me up and I was ready. I could hardly wait to go out and sing. There I was in the wings, waiting for my cue and I remember Maestro Spadoni, that was then the coach and the stage, one of the--

Studs Terkel Stage manager?

Rosa Raisa Not manager, but stage coach. He was in the wings and the Maestro told him, "Please, Spadoni, you hold this [long?]. She's like a puledra," you know, like a little, young horse. She wants to--

Studs Terkel A young filly.

Rosa Raisa That's it. So he held me by my arm and I wanted to go to sing. I just could hardly wait to go out and sing. Well, when I went out, really, I didn't feel that it was my debut. I just went out, I sang. Very, very, not conscious, you know. Young and no responsibility, nothing to worry about. I thought, well, I begin, I'll try to do the best I can. After all, they won't kill me. And if they like me that's all right. If they don't, I tried to do my best. That's all. And then I did pretty well, I think. The next day the papers said, well, you know, those days an artist that used to go to America had to be pretty good, you know. So the next day the papers came out and they're all beautiful articles, "what a promising young girl we heard last night," and so on and so forth. "Well, now she can go and sing in America."

Studs Terkel That was the compliment.

Rosa Raisa That was the compliment.

Studs Terkel And so--

Rosa Raisa And here I am after all these years.

Studs Terkel So Campanini brought you to Chicago? It was that you bypassed New York--Gatti-Casazza?

Rosa Raisa No, we sang, we gave--we used to start our season in Philadelphia.

Studs Terkel Oh, you traveled first?

Rosa Raisa Yes. For two weeks in Philadelphia then we used to come and give--a season, I think those days was about seven to eight, between eight and 10 weeks and then there would be a long, long tour to the coast and back. So I made my debut with--every band, every one, everybody asked me, "Did you make your debut in 'Aida'?" No. I made my debut here on a Saturday afternoon. It was November, 1913 in "Cristoforo Colombo." I [fronted?] with Titta Ruffo and Bassi, the tenor. Then I sang "Aida" [and?] Campanini conducting.

Studs Terkel But you opened at the Auditorium? The old Auditorium.

Rosa Raisa The Auditorium, why certainly.

Studs Terkel In "Cristoforo Colombo."

Rosa Raisa "Christoforo Colombo." Then "Aida," and "Don Giovanni," "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Lohengrin" in German, and "Cassandra" by Gnechhi, a composer from Bologna.

Studs Terkel There's something you just said, you said "Lohengrin" in German. And then--

Rosa Raisa Yeah. Then I had to study it in English.

Studs Terkel This--

Rosa Raisa When the second war came on and--I mean, the first one--I had to study it in English because they wouldn't give the German operas in German.

Studs Terkel This is a subject that comes up, earlier, Madame Raisa, you spoke of the young singers today; the rush, the rush. This matter of training, the repertoire as a result is--

Rosa Raisa Well, they are, you see, in my days a soprano had to sing--I sang "Norma" and then I would sing "Il trovatore." I was trained for it. First my teacher made me sing, study coloratura work and I hate it. I was a young girl, I didn't know how very important it was to study coloratura work. And she made me study "Barber of Seville," "Sonnambula," which wasn't in my temperament. I was, wanted to sing dramatic cry and be, you know, dramatic. And she said, "My dear child, you probably will not--never sing 'Sonnambula,' and 'Lucia,' and 'Barber' but this will train you for the operas that you will sing." "Norma" and "Trovatore" where you need good [rounds?]. The flexibility it will give you. And she was right. I still bless the memory of Barbara Marchisio.

Studs Terkel It was the question of--

Rosa Raisa I received beautiful training and I studied for five consecutive years. Three times a week I would study at the Conservatory in Naples and the other three times she would invite me to her home to study. And during the summer I would go to Capri with my relatives that brought me to [unintelligible] Italy. I would go there for a month vacation and I would go to the villa of my teacher which was near Venice, Mira. And there I would take a lesson every single day. I can still remember [where? when?] I used to go, she had a beautiful villa. It was a big [alley?] with lots of pears, and apples, and grapes, and I would go out there; my lesson was always at two o'clock, between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon so I would go out in that alley and pick a pear. It was hard, you know, and swallowed in a hurry when she used to call me, "Raisa, come on. Come on and study." And there I would swallow that pear and run and for a whole hour every day I would study.

Studs Terkel Always studying.

Rosa Raisa She taught me Italian, and she taught me how to live on the stage, how to live, an artist should live.

Studs Terkel How an artist should live, you say?

Rosa Raisa How an artist should live; take care and not go dancing the night before, or sing in a smoke--room full of smoke, or eat something that is not good for the digestion, or go out and, you know, not--

Studs Terkel The matter of discipline, itself. Discipline.

Rosa Raisa Discipline. Lead a decent, fine, healthy life which goes with a healthy career.

Studs Terkel A healthy life and a healthy career.

Rosa Raisa With a healthy voice.

Studs Terkel Of course, this is the story of Rosa Raisa. Now when you joined the Chicago company, with Campanini in 1913, this was just about the beginning of what is called The Golden Age of Chicago Opera, wasn't it, then? [At that time?]

Rosa Raisa Well, that was the beginning because Maestro Campanini brought a company, I think, two years before and he used to go to the Manhattan, give performances or they would then exchange with the Metropolitan. A few artists like Caruso, Farrar, and Scotti would come here for just, to change artists or Mary Garden would go there. But then Campanini said we will go some days to New York to the Manhattan Opera. Of course, that's the season, when we went in 1917, the first time, he couldn't have the Manhattan. He had the Lexington. And there we went and Gatti-Casazza, I remember, he--

Studs Terkel The impresario of the Metropolitan?

Rosa Raisa Impresario of the Metropolitan, he wanted to take everybody away so to avoid [Campanini? competition?], to have that [season?] in Chicago--in New York--which would have been a great competition and it was a great competition when we were there. And he hated that. So he tried, he took away Crimi, the tenor. Wonderful tenor voice--

Studs Terkel Teacher of Tito Gobbi.

Rosa Raisa Yes, that's it. He took away Crimi. He took St--tried to get away Galli-Curci. And one day Camp--Gatti-Casazza sent me a wire, would I accept going to sing there? And, of course, I didn't accept. My gratitude is still for Maestro Campanini and you can imagine those days if, I would have never thought of letting down Campanini. And one day I was in the lobby of the Congress Hotel and he sees me and says, "Well, Raisa, Crimi isn't coming. Galli-Curci I hear probably won't come. Will you come to Chica--to New York?" I said," Me to New York, Maestro? I'll go with you to the end of the world," and he said, "Well, Raisa, I know you as a grateful girl and I know you would come but if you don't want to come," he says, "You know, Raisa, I will go and the prompter will go. We both will go," he said. But I will go to New York and give a season.

Studs Terkel He was--

Rosa Raisa And we went there in 1917 and I can assure you it was really a great, a sensational season.

Studs Terkel Well, this whole matter--

Rosa Raisa With Galli-Curci, with fine tenors, with new repertoire, Mary Garden and her repertoire. With so many fine artists. With Claudia Muzio, of course, then she was [unintelligible] but then she came with us. With such, [unintelligible], [unintelligible]. And I'd like to mention also, naturally, my husband, Giacomo Rimini, who, all--Miss Mason, Giorgio Polacco, Marinuzzi--all contributed to the great success of Chicago Opera.

Studs Terkel Of course, as you mention these names, I'm sure, for many listeners, memories have evoked, and very exciting and vivid ones, too. You mentioned your loyalty to Campanini; I remember the last time we met you told a very humorous story. He gave you the name, Raisa?

Rosa Raisa Yes. Well, when I made my audition for him he asked me my name, so I told him, "My name is Raitza Burchstein." He said, "Raitza Burchstein, Burchstein," like that, you know, "Well, you'll never become famous in America. That's too long a name for you to have in America. In America they like short names." So I said, "Maestro, what do you think you want to call me?" He said, "Well, what does it mean, Raitza?" I said, "Well, it's like Rosa in Italian." "Well then we'll call your Rosa Raisa." And that was really euphonic and quick and that was--

Studs Terkel What was your father, your father's reactions to this?

Rosa Raisa Oh, my father, my goodness. When I sent for him in 1918, right after the first war, naturally I was singing in Chicago. The first thing, I call him up and I said he should come out and hear me. Of course, he heard me when I was a little girl and always, since I can remember, I always sang. And I would run after all the organ grinders in Bialystok to sing, you know, with my full voice all over the place there. And in the woods I would go out and sing. And I liked, in the woods, I liked to hear my voice from the very distance.

Studs Terkel Echo back.

Rosa Raisa And the echo and my friends, girlfriends, would come with me and they would yell to me, "Raitza, sing, sing!" And they could hear me. Well, now let's go back to what I was talking. So, my father, when he heard Rosa Raisa, he said, "Oh, Raitza, why did you take off that beautiful name Burchstein? It's such a beautiful name." I said, "Papa," I explained to him, I said, "you know, it was too long a name for America." "Well," he said, "but still I'm very sorry that you should not have kept the Burchstein."

Studs Terkel He saw you in many of the operas [at the time?]?

Rosa Raisa Oh, yes.

Studs Terkel What were his reactions when he saw you on that stage?

Rosa Raisa Well, the first time I sent for him from New York and he heard me, in "Aida," and heard me in "Otello." And I remember that night, in "Otello," when he heard it, when he saw the last act when the tenor chokes me to death, you know, and when the first choking I started to yell, you know, and he got out of the box, crying, yelling, "Oh, no, no, no, no." And he went and then I remember another time that was in 1920, that was 1921. I was singing "Gioconda" with my husband, Giacomo Rimini, and the last act we had a very, very dramatic scene. He would pick me up at the very end of the last act, whispering a few words, and then he would raise me from the floor. I already laid down there dead, you know. I didn't do like many other artists--after they died they get up and they thank the public and then they die again. So while I was there laying and he embraced me, just kept me straight in his hands, the whole body rigid, and he would whisper these few words to me and then he would let me go and I would fall on my back. If I should do it now I would kill myself. And even then if I tried to do it not on the stage I would hurt myself. But on the stage--

Studs Terkel You were the role.

Rosa Raisa Yeah, I was the role and I fell down and all my friends would, "Oh!" They would yell, you know, they would have such a shock and my father, when he saw that he just went out of the box and went away. Well, after the performance we came home, it was at the Congress Hotel, to our apartment, there was my father sitting on the couch and waiting for me and I saw he was kind of moody and I thought maybe we gave a bad performance. So at last I decided, I'll ask my father, "Papa, how did you like the performance?" "Well," he said, "I liked it, but," he said, "I liked it very much, but one thing I didn't like," I said, "What didn't you like?" "Well," he said, "I don't like that your husband should let you fall like that and break your neck." I said, "Papa, well, this is the scene. I have to do it with Barnaba." He said, "Well, I don't care. It's--you'll have to do it. Your [daughter?] is still, here is your, he's your husband, he shouldn't let you drop on the floor," and--

Studs Terkel This is all life to him and you were his daughter.

Rosa Raisa Life to him.

Studs Terkel As Tosca, when you jumped off the roof as Tosca, I imagine--

Rosa Raisa Oh, "Tosca," and "La Juive," well, he couldn't stand that. And "Tosca," he never, I would never let him come backstage because, for me, backstage, except after the performance, not during the performance. Of course, to see my father in the box and go back to my childhood, think of my mother, my family, and it would always upset me. I was very, you know, it would make me, not nervous, but I would go back to my childhood, it would make me [kindly?], I don't know--

Studs Terkel Emotionally upset.

Rosa Raisa Emotionally upset. So I always told my father don't ever come to any performance because he would come in and hug me, and kiss me, and tears running. He would say, "Oh, if your mother was here to hear you. Oh," this and that. And that upset me so I always told him, "Please come at the end of the performance," which he did. In "Tosca," in New York, I remember after the second act he came back and, of course, they wouldn't let him pass. And he told the usher there, whoever was in charge of the stage door, he said, "But I am Rosa Raisa's father." Then, naturally, they opened the door and they let him go in. They didn't know that I didn't want to be upset. But, anyhow, I was happy to see my father. I knew that he must have liked it very much. He was thrilled. He said, "You know, Raisa, I had to come and tell you I'm so happy. You did it well. You killed that dirty dog, Scarpia. "

Studs Terkel Scarpia! [laughter]

Rosa Raisa "I was so happy I had to come and tell you." So that's the only time he came back.

Studs Terkel It's all life to him.

Rosa Raisa Oh, he was--

Studs Terkel Well, your memories are so alive. You mentioned Caruso earlier; you worked with Caruso in "Aida," didn't you?

Rosa Raisa Well, I sang, right after I finished my first season here in 1914 in the spring, [Egans?], the impresario, came from London and he heard me sing "I vespri sicilani." I made my audition. So he engaged me for Covent Garden in London and I sang with Caruso in "Aida" in 1914 in Covent Garden. And I remember he gave me his caricature made as [Radames?]--

Studs Terkel He was a good cartoonist, wasn't he?

Rosa Raisa Wonderful. And he gave me that and he under wrote, and I still have it, "I wish you a great career which I'm sure you'll have," as the one that underwrites, Enrico Caruso. Then I sang with him in Colón, Buenos Aires, and I already had made a name for myself, I can proudly say that, in Italy singing at La Scala, singing in the Reale, Rome. And in Colón, Buenos Aires, I went there in 1915 and I sang with Caruso in "Aida" and that was, of course, a great thrill for me. And you had to be good and, believe me, he was an inspiration. If you need a hundred percent with Caruso you had to do 200 because he was so great that one had to be good to really sing at his side. And I remember that, of course, he was always, at the beginning, he was always nervous. His first arias never were as [quiet?] and marvelous as the opera went on.

Studs Terkel [As the evening went on he'd?] warm up? He'd get warmed up?

Rosa Raisa He had to warm up. But what a voice, what a thrilling artist. I'll never forget those performances with Caruso.

Studs Terkel Was working with him, you found, easy to work with?

Rosa Raisa Oh, he was a joy, such an inspiration. And I--it was wonderful to sing with him. His voice would blend, that voice full of [unintelligible] that would give you, really, gooseflesh to sing and you got more, you [did? dig?] more, you had to do it. And I will remember those performances as long as I live. One of the outstanding things in my life, memories in my life, I did performances with Caruso. My first "Norma" in Colón, Buenos Aires, my creation of the "Nerone" by Boito with Toscanini, and the first performance of "Turandot" with Toscanini.

Studs Terkel I wish you'd touch these various things. Before we leave Caruso, a man of great humor, too, sense of humor, wasn't he?

Rosa Raisa Oh, he was wonderful. Well, he was very gay always, of course, not gay before the performance, he was awfully nervous. But if the performance went down naturally, as Caruso could go on. He always used to take a little drink of whiskey and I remember, before I used to go out for my third act in "Aida," you know, "Patria Mia," and I would pass by his dressing room and he would call me in with his index finger, "Come here, come here. I'll give you a little sip of whiskey. It will do you good." And, of course, I was afraid, you know, I wouldn't touch more than a little drink of tea. I wouldn't touch anything. So I thanked him and told him you keep that little whiskey for after the performance, after I will do it. He was a very fine and wonderful colleague. A wonderful, great, great, great colleague. Great man.

Studs Terkel No temper, easy to work with?

Rosa Raisa Oh, easy to work with. I--that's--in my whole career I think he was the easiest person to work with; understanding and kind.

Studs Terkel You mentioned certain things stand out in your mind. Your "Norma" in Buenos Aires. When was that?

Rosa Raisa Well, I went to Buenos Aires, I was, oh, very young and I had studied already "Norma" with my teacher, Barbara Marchisio. By the way, her sister, the dramatic soprano, she was the greatest Norma then living and Barbara Marchisio, my teacher, would sing Adalgisa. So, naturally, she taught me the tradition and she taught me "Norma" which I'd remember since my school days and that was always an opera that I wanted badly to sing because for the [arias?] I was trained. And I kept doing them all my life until the last day of my career. So I prepared "Norma" and I sang the first performance. I sang in Colón, Buenos Aries. Gabrielle Besanzoni was Adalgisa and I will never forget that performance as long as I live. It was in 1917--18--season 18, 1918. And I was going to South America then on a very small boat because it was during the war, if you remember. And all the boats were taken up by the government. So there was a Swedish boat of three thousand tons and everybody was on the deck, you know. The captain with his instruments there, everything was on the deck. And on the deck there was a little upright piano and I used to study "Norma," all the passages I used to work. And, of course, then the passengers were [out mingling?] and everybody was just like one family. About thirty days, thirty days trip to go to [just outside?] Rio de Janeiro. Then from there another boat that took me to Buenos Aires. So I arrive there, first I sang "Aida" and then I sang "Norma," Marinuzzi conducting. I will never forget at the general rehearsal the whole chorus and the conductor, seeing tears in their eyes, dropping of their cheeks and the chorus. And I, at the last act, did a beautiful phrase to the father, "Deh! non voleri vittime." I cried myself, really, and it was already the general rehearsal and the conductor, Marinuzzi, came backstage, he said, "Raisa, tomorrow it will be a triumph." I said, "Maestro, well, if I sing as I sang today I hope the people will like it." Well, it was really a, after the first act I'll never forget, after the "Casta Diva" [unintelligible], well the whole public just, just--triumphantly, really, applauded.

Studs Terkel They recognized something.

Rosa Raisa Oh, my. They were crazy. And after this, the duet of the second, in the beginning of the second act, Besanzoni [and I?], and I remember the public just stood up. They just stood, giving me the greatest ovation and, of course, as the performance went on, well, I. I don't have to tell you because I don't want to amplify too much, you know. And, anyhow, it was a great, great--one of those great memories that will stand out--

Studs Terkel This is a memory--

Rosa Raisa In my life, that performance of "Norma."

Studs Terkel Another, you were the, you were the original "Turandot." It was 1926 at La Scala, was it?

Rosa Raisa Yes. 1926. Well, I remember I created in 1924 "Nerone" by Boito and Toscanini cabled me here. He wanted me to create a part which, naturally, I felt very proud and very honored. So I cabled back that I would be very happy after the tour in Chicago with the Chicago Opera. And I sang that with him. It was a great event because Boito, it was given after his death. which he had already written; for 25 years it was laying there and never--he was a modest--although a great, great artist, a great poet and, besides being a great composer. Well, he didn't want to give it while he was alive, so when he was on his dying bed Toscanini promised him that he would give "Nerone." And so he did. And that was an event, really, people from all over the world came to hear that performance of "Nerone" which went very fine. We gave many performances and I was very happy. Then in 1925 I went back and I sang "Turandot" with Toscanini and I sang "Faust" with Toscanini and I repeated again "Nerone." And I remember during the rehearsals of "Nerone" Puccini came on the stage. He wanted to listen to the rehearsal of "Nerone" and that Toscanini said--

Studs Terkel He was scouting you.

Rosa Raisa He said, "Giacomo," he said, "I would love to have you to listen to the rehearsals but I want this to be a surprise to everybody until the general rehearsal. There isn't anybody allowed on the stage." And I could see Puccini and, you know, walking very--it felt sorry, you know. I felt so sorry to see that big man going away because it wasn't allowed. Nobody could go and naturally he felt that if Toscanini didn't want anybody until the general rehearsal he wouldn't want to be the one to be on the stage. And I took him to the back door of La Scala and I said, "Maestro, I feel so sorry that you can't stay for the rehearsal." Well, I understand rules. He said, "Raisa, I'm writing an opera," he said. "I can just see and hear you and I want you to be the one to create it." So, well, I spoke, you know, all the composers they always say I'm writing an opera. But, of course, naturally with Puccini it was different so I always thought, "What about an opera?" And then, of course, he got sick. He went to Belgium for a very sad, [serious?] operation and he died. So "Turandot" wasn't finished. Anyhow, the year after Toscanini wanted to give it at La Scala and he cabled to me. I was on tour with the Chicago Opera Company and he cabled me, would I be there ready for rehearsals in April. My goodness, the company, you know, the tour was never over until the end of April and the first beginning in May. So I cabled back as much as I would love, as much as I'd feel honored with your wonderful offer to create "Turandot," I would love to do it but I cannot be released by the company because we are on tour and I won't be free until May. Well, he cabled he'll wait. So he did. And I remember, while we were in Boston with the Chicago Opera Company, we would commute; my husband and I would commute to New York, the Astor Hotel, with Toscanini, and rehearse. So that, while on tour, I could study while I was singing "Aida," and "Otello," and "Tosca," and "La Juive," ["Jewess"?], and "Gioconda," whatnot. I would find time to rehearse, study the part. So he gave me all the instruction, what he wanted and how he wanted. And then I went there, it was about, oh, the first part in May, or the very end of April, and we arrived and rehearsals had already started and I went there and I knew my part, naturally. We started and "Turandot" was given; first performance was very sad. I'll never forget it, when I was standing there at the end of the work, Puccini left, Toscanini put down his baton and he turned to the public and, after the death of Liù, he turned to the public, he said, "And here Puccini died." The duet which was written at the end by Alfano wasn't given that night but it was given after the first performance with Toscanini. By the way, duet that he never liked and I didn't either. The sincer--it was something put together just to finish it.

Studs Terkel Didn't have Puccini's touch?

Rosa Raisa No. It didn't have Puccini's style.

Studs Terkel Madame Raisa, you've spoke of Chicago--

Rosa Raisa Yeah.

Studs Terkel Welcoming you, well of course, with good reason; your performances, your creativity, your interpretations have helped so much to make Chicago's opera picture so rich. It was you, did you, when the new opera building opened--

Rosa Raisa Yes.

Studs Terkel It was you who opened it?

Rosa Raisa Oh, yes. I opened it in "Aida," myself and Polacco conducting. And he, and Marshall was the tenor, and the other, Gordon--Cyrena van Gordon--and Formici. And I will never forget, at the general rehearsal we were all dressed up like in the performance and Mr. Insull came and asked me how the acoustics were. Well, then the opera wasn't dried out, it was still new, wet, not even finished. Well, and I told Mr. Insull, I had the courage to tell him when he asked me how are the acoustics, I said, "Mr. Insull, they are bad, very bad." But the acoustics now are so much better because the theater has dried out.

Studs Terkel But maybe someday the Auditorium will be reopened again.

Rosa Raisa Oh, that is--

Studs Terkel Acoustically, that was the--

Rosa Raisa The wish of my life wish and I wish I live that long to come and see it and be with you, with my dear, beloved public that is deep in my heart.

Studs Terkel There is a movement under way I believe, now [to restore it?].

Rosa Raisa Well, that's what I hear. I hear they want to [unintelligible].

Studs Terkel Because, acoustically, that's about the best, isn't it?

Rosa Raisa Oh, that was like a Stradivarius. Then the inspiration to see those boxes set aside, to see Mrs. McCormick in one, Mrs. Chalmers in front with a big tiara, the [Meekers?], the Potter Palmers, everybody around those boxes you could see.

Studs Terkel And the gallery gods whom you can't see.

Rosa Raisa And the gallery and the, you felt a connection with the public, you know. You didn't feel isolated, so far away. You go out here, there are two cold walls right on your stomach before you see the conductor. You're a mile away. There it was all one. And I could distinct everyone where they were sitting. I could feel their impression. And the connection; it has to be a connection between the public and the artists. It's like [radium?], it has to mold together. Well, here, before you get to the public it's terrible. But I will never, those performances it was like singing in, it's like a Stradivarius, really. Every little pianissimo in the voice you could feel. The voice was floating, just floating. While here you give out a tone, it remains right there like steel.

Studs Terkel Flat.

Rosa Raisa Flat.

Studs Terkel You feel, Madame Raisa, you've given us so much of your memories, your feelings, your impressions--what of the young singers today?

Rosa Raisa Well, it's a different generation. You see, in my days we didn't have radio except at the end of my career. Radio and television we didn't have. Naturally, now, life has become much more difficult. The demand is different. Life is difficult. Each one must think of making a living. Everything is rush, rush, rush and they want it overnight because they want to make money. On television and radio you don't need that very long, wonderful training, you know, for opera or concert like they need now. Now they just know how to whisper a song with the radio, with the machine, you know.

Studs Terkel Amplified.

Rosa Raisa It's amplified. They do miracles now. If I had in my days a little, what do you call, tape recorder, how much work it would have avoided me. Many times I had to sing first at rehearsal with the conductor for, to make a record. Then rehearse with the conductor, you know, the orchestra. Then it would be to make one record and listen to it, if I liked it or didn't like it. Then they would make three masters. By the time one made a record the artist was exhausted.

Studs Terkel Pretty [tired? tiring?]

Rosa Raisa Now--and if the last note wasn't so, or the violin wasn't so, or the trumpet wasn't so, we had to repeat ten times the same thing. The whole thing.

Studs Terkel Here you just dub in then, wouldn't you?

Rosa Raisa Now you just put in a note if it didn't go with something you just put it extra and that's that. And then, what they can do today with a tape recorder--study themselves to improve and it's the most wonderful teacher, a tape recorder. It exaggerates every little fault. And in my days I didn't have it. Now they have this, all these possibilities but they don't want to study long enough. They want to make money, become great overnight. Well, it is a long study. It is, to me I think, an artist today, young artist, must think; even with being musical, even with a beautiful figure, even with talent, they need from between three and five years constant study. It is not only the technical work but it's to prepare mentally, physically--

Studs Terkel Emotionally.

Rosa Raisa Emotionally. And once you have done that you'll feel your feet like lead on the floor and you don't finish your career in one year. How many talents here have started and they became famous overnight and they died overnight. Where are those--

Studs Terkel Nothing solid about [them?].

Rosa Raisa Many I could mention, many names, which I don't. But many. But when they really have, they finish, they are finished in a few months, they are finished. Overnight, you know, sensation and that's that.

Studs Terkel This is the tragedy you outlined, the dilemma: the opportunities here because of the technology. But the one thing that is missing that was so much true in your day, and of you, the creative urge.

Rosa Raisa Oh, yes. And the responsibility, you know, and we felt [it?]. I remember every performance and I think I was pretty good.

Studs Terkel [chuckles] You were pretty--

Rosa Raisa My first "Norma," my first "Aida" with Caruso. But the next day, even after a triumph I, the next morning I would still go back, go to the piano and I would think, oh, that, I can improve that, I can make it better. I can use pianissimo here or forte there, I can improve. But what artist nowadays does it? Well, after the performance they take the play and they fly to Alaska. Next day it will be to go and sing to the moon, you know. How can they do it? But they want to do it because, naturally, they want to make money in a hurry. And, so, that's just making money. But it isn't a career.

Studs Terkel If only--

Rosa Raisa The dignity in the real operatic career. But there are many talents here, you'd be surprised how many I hear; California, here. People that could with proper study, patience, really become great singers but they don't.

Studs Terkel Well, perhaps the phrase you just hit a while ago, Madame Raisa: artistic dignity.

Rosa Raisa That's it.

Studs Terkel Perhaps that.

Rosa Raisa Artistic dignity. The respect--

Studs Terkel Pride in your work.

Rosa Raisa The respect, the real love for opera.

Studs Terkel And always seeking--

Rosa Raisa Artistic dignity: that's what I carry--

Studs Terkel And--

Rosa Raisa To feel the responsibility to interpret the great composers.

Studs Terkel And, certainly you, Madame Rosa Raisa, symbolize that; very much alive and vibrant today. And I remember, if I may, just before saying goodbye to you, I was a very small boy, in the house and in the rooming house where I lived the name Raisa was like Babe Ruth is to baseball fans. And, "Raisa's singing 'La Juive' tonight, or 'Aida' tonight."

Rosa Raisa Well, it's very nice of you. I am grateful for my beautiful memories. I worked hard. I've worked very hard and I received, I was happy to find some wonderful people that helped me: Madame and Mr. Ascarelli, who heard me sing and they wanted me to study. They took me to a great teacher, to the Conservatory in Naples and they supervised. They sponsored my studies and I remember that I wouldn't take advantage, and I was in a hurry to start so that to show them my gratitude, show them that I was able, how to thank them. And I studied and I was in a hurry but they used to tell me all the time, "Don't be in a hurry, Raisa. Take your time. We don't mind. No matter what you need and what you will need, we are here to back you until your teacher will say that you are ready to." And my teacher said, "Please, don't hurry. Be patient. I will tell you when you'll be ready." And she told me when I was ready. And when she used to say, "It begins to go," I was sure it went fine.

Studs Terkel If we may just hear you, "La mamma morta," from "Andrea."

Rosa Raisa Oh, certainly. I'd love to hear that. I remember when I made a record.

Studs Terkel Do you?

Rosa Raisa I made that record in, wait a minute, in 1931 with La Scala Orchestra. The cons--where was it? In the Conservatory of Milan.

Studs Terkel Milan. Here then, from Milan, "La mamma morta," Raisa. [content removed, see catalog record] A passioned aria. "La mamma morta."

Rosa Raisa Well, I like it. I used to love it. I sang it here for the first time in 1916 with Giacomo Rimini, my husband. The tenor, Crimi, was really a beautiful trio. And Maestro Campanini, if I don't mistake, was conducting. Then they gave it, since it's a great opera I used to love it. And I remember Madame Campanini, that was herself a great dramatic soprano, wonderful great artist, she taught me many of the phrases. "Ora soave," I will never forget, it gives me still gooseflesh when I think how she sounded, that great [artist?]? And in "Giaconde" and "Aida" she taught me. She was like a mother to me. Both of them. I thank God and I am grateful to these great men, these wonderful people that brought me here to this blessed country. And I want also to say to the people that will listen to this program how much I love Chicago. I don't have to say that, we all know. They have been devoted to me for all these years and I am happy to be still here although I live in California with my daughter and my son-in-law, who practices there in gynecology and obstetrics, and with two adorable grandchildren: Little Susan, eight years old, and little George, five years old. They are my whole life. That's the reason why I live in California though. California is a beautiful part of this country. I love the climate, everything but still my heart is in Chicago.

Studs Terkel Your memories and--

Rosa Raisa My memories, which will always carry me to the last day of my life. And whenever I can, I come to Chicago to be with my friends and I have many friends who constantly show me their appreciation. Their remembering me, their love for me, and I can assure you they are reciprocated from the bottom of my heart. And when I think of Chicago I feel deep in my heart the gratitude and the love for Chicago which will always be, for giving me this opportunity to appeal, I mean, to talk to the people of Chicago. They probably haven't heard all these little details of my life, my early career. Well, I could talk for hours and tell you--somebody told me, "Why don't you write your memoirs?" And it's funny, I was sitting in a restaurant with a very dear friend of mine and she asked me, "Oh, tell me something about yourself." Well, I started to talk, you know, I get so into going back to those years that I continued talking just as I do here. And one lady that was sitting opposite our table, when we left with my friend, the table after lunch, she came to me and she said, "Madame Raisa, why don't you write your biography. I was sitting here swallowing every word you said."

Studs Terkel That's an excellent idea. Perhaps someday, the memoirs of Raisa?

Rosa Raisa Well, I don't know. I hate to talk about myself. I think I already did too much--

Studs Terkel Oh, no, no.

Rosa Raisa Talking about myself.

Studs Terkel As you do this, in talking of yourself, you've also spoken of the times--

Rosa Raisa Well, it is--

Studs Terkel And the world in which you lived.

Rosa Raisa I truly hate just illustrating about myself but I love to talk because I go back with my memories--

Studs Terkel I have a suggestion--

Rosa Raisa And I feel younger.

Studs Terkel I have a suggestion, and, well, of course, you are young. As I said, next year, when you return to Chicago again, you will be a guest once more on this program?

Rosa Raisa I shall certainly be very happy to be with you and to talk to the people of Chicago.

Studs Terkel Madame Raisa, thank you very much.

Rosa Raisa Thank you.

Studs Terkel Madame Rosa Raisa. I think that on behalf--I'm safe in saying on behalf of the listeners, and the staff of WFMT, as well as myself, very grateful for your being here and being the artist you have been and the human being you are.

Rosa Raisa Well, I--

Studs Terkel Thank you very much.

Rosa Raisa Thank you very much.