It is now quite some time ago that I visited a very dear (and very sick) friend, who was once a celebrated opera singer. When she asked me what I was working on at the moment, I started to hum ‘L’altra notte’ from Boito’s Mefistofele. She joined me and sang the whole aria out loud, with her – still intact, beautiful, voice. She said: “Yes, that is a great aria to sing. You can put all your emotions into it”.
It is indeed a very emotional aria, so it is no wonder that almost every soprano has it in her repertoire. Callas, Tebaldi, Price, Miricioiu, Gheorghiu …… all of them have sung or recorded it at some point.
But I would like to dwell for a moment on the singer who was once world-famous but who is now almost forgotten and whose interpretation of that aria always reminds me of my – now deceased – friend: Rosa Raisa.
Raisa recorded the aria in 1923 and it has been released on several labels in the meantime. Her singing is itense, according to the best veristic traditions, but still light. Her coloratura and high notes are exemplary, and yet they do not degenerate into ‘beautiful singing’ in itself. No wonder she was the best Norma of her generation.
I think even the biggest opera novice knows Puccini’s Turandot. If not the entire opera then at least ‘Nessun Dorma’ one of the best known tenor arias ever. The premiere took place on 25 April 1926 at La Scala in Milan and the demanding role of the ice-cold Chinese princess whose heart thaws after a warm kiss from an unknown prince was created by the famous Italian soprano Rosa Raisa.