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Music: Blessed Event

4 minute read

There was very little security 27 years ago for a middle-class Jewish family named Burschstein who lived in Bielostok, Russia (now Poland). Harried by fear of Tsarism and pogroms, they had a son who belonged to a Socialist fraternity. Their eleven-year-old daughter Rosa was already being watched suspiciously by government officials, for she carried messages between her brother and his friends. Then one day came the dreaded cry: Pogrom! Rosa, with only the clothes she wore and a small satchel, was hurriedly packed off to Italy in the company of a cousin. There she grew up. The Burschstein relations in Capri were poor: Rosa must work. Working, she sang, and soon a rich woman discovered her voice, sent her off to study with Eva Tetrazzini, sister of Soprano Luisa Tetrazzini and wife of Maestro Cleofonte Campanini.

To the Burschsteins of Bielostok was born last week in Chicago a grand-daughter, Daughter Rosa’s first child. If this birth was one of the year’s most notable,* it was because Daughter Rosa is now a world-famed diva, Rosa Raisa of the Chicago Opera Company; and because, wife of Baritone Giacomo Rimini, she had become increasingly famed in 1928, when obstetrical forecasts in the Press were limited mainly to royalty and gossipy tabloids, by being reported “expectant” (TIME, April 30, 1928). The public had watched and waited while Soprano Raisa went with her husband to their villa at Verona, Italy. But there was no child. Summer of 1929 was spent resting at Verona, and once more there was no child. Then last January doctors ordered Soprano Raisa to go to a Chicago hotel, to rest in bed, to wait. Last week, delivered, she was happy & well, and proud was Husband Rimini. They agreed to call their child Rosa Juliet.

Less spectacular but more an artist than the unmarried Mary Garden, Rosa Raisa made her Chicago debut (in Aida) in 1913, three years after that of Chicago’s Mary. She has seen the Chicago Opera undergo many a vicissitude,† and at 38 (Mary Garden who left this year is 54) she may look forward to years more of good & bad times. Tall, swart, she has neither the chic of Lucrezia Bori nor the Viennese brilliance of Maria Jeritza: she looks Jewish, and like Soprano Alma Gluck and Contralto Sophie Braslau, is proud of it. Annually (except this year) she gives a concert of which the proceeds go to the Raisa Scholarship Foundation, for the musical education of one Jewish boy singer a year. Like many a great singer, she likes to live quietly, hates large parties, guards carefully her health and voice. Most of her Chicago friends are Jewish.

Raisa sings some 80 roles; she began her career by studying coloratura as well as dramatic parts. Her favorites are Norma and Aida (she feels the “terrible oppression” they suffered), Rachel in Halévy’s La Juive (“It is of my own land . . . my race, which in Poland suffered inconceivable persecutions”) and Maliella in The Jewels of the Madonna (“a vamp type . . . brilliant temperament of a feminine mind”). In 1924 Arturo Toscanini, then director of La Scala in Milan, offered her the leading soprano role in the world premiere of Arrigo Boito’s posthumous Nerone. Regretfully she declined: she would not break her U. S. contracts (later she became a U. S. citizen). Maestro Toscanini postponed the premiere so that she might appear in it. Giacomo Puccini heard her in Nerone, stipulated that she should be engaged for the first performance of Turandot which he was then writing. Turandot, also, was delayed until she could sing it.

Baritones are seldom heroes. In La Tosca Mme Raisa has many times stabbed Husband Rimini. In Otello he is responsible for her death by strangulation. Seldom lovers on the stage, Soprano and Baritone have been (for opera singers) amazingly felicitous in the home. Domestic as are few couples so loaded with fame, they would have found no fault last week with the colyumist’s casual, stereotyped term, “blessed event.”

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