She was born as Raitza Burchstein, daughter of Herschel and Frieda Leah (Constantanovsky) Burchstein, in Białystok, in partitioned Poland on 30 May 1893. Her mother died in 1899 and Herschel remarried, Chaya. Along with her cousins (Sasha Vigdorchik and his family) she fled Poland when she was 14 due to the pogroms, emigrating to the Isle of Capri, Italy. There Raitza met Dario Ascarelli and his wife Ester,], who recognized her talent and potential and sponsored her at the Naples Conservatory (San Pietro a Majella). Her teacher at the conservatory, the contralto Barbara Marchisio (1833–1919), had been one of the most prominent Italian singers of the mid-19th century. (See Marchisio's entry in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, edited by Harold Rosenthal and John Warrack, Oxford University Press, second edition, 1980.)
Marchisio brought Raisa in 1912 to Cleofonte Campanini, a leading operatic conductor and impresario. After the audition, he engaged the 20-year-old singer for the 1913 Parma Verdi Centenary: "Oberto, Conte di San Bonafico" and "Un ballo in maschera," and also signed her for his Philadelphia-Chicago Opera. As she was under 21 years of age, her engagement was confirmed in a handshake. In her Chicago Aida debut (November 29, 1913) at the famous Auditorium, she revealed "a voice the like of whose power had never been heard on that stage."
Debuts and successes followed rapidly for Raisa: a 3-month tour of North America, London and Paris. During the early period of World War I she made debuts at Rome, Milan (La Scala), Buenos Aires (Teatro Colón) and Rio de Janeiro. She returned to the Chicago Opera in 1916 as a well-established dramatic soprano. Enrico Caruso, who sang with her in London and Buenos Aires, considered her the "greatest dramatic soprano in the world". Triumphs followed rapidly; she was acclaimed for her Aida, Norma, Maliella in I gioielli della Madonna, and Rachel in La Juive.
In 1924, Arturo Toscanini brought her back to La Scala for the creation of Boito's Nerone (in the role of Asteria). At that time Giacomo Puccini heard her again (he had first heard her sing in Zandonai's "Francesca da Rimini" in 1916; offering her the creation of his next opera "La Rondine" for 1917) and told her he wanted her to create the lead role in his new, as yet unfinished opera, Turandot. Puccini died in November of that year and left Turandot unfinished. Turandot had its world premiere at La Scala on 25 April 1926, under Toscanini's baton, with Raisa appearing as Turandot and Miguel Fleta as Calaf. It was at this performance that Toscanini stopped the performance at the exact point where Puccini had ceased composing; the finale, prepared by Franco Alfano from Puccini's musical sketches, was given at the second performance two nights later (27 April). Toscanini believed her to be the "most gifted of dramatic sopranos".
Rosa Raisa married the Italian baritone Giacomo Rimini (1888–1952) in 1920; the couple had first met five years earlier. Their careers merged and after retirement in 1938 they opened a voice/opera school together in Chicago. Their daughter Rosa Giulietta Frieda Rimini was born 7 July 1931. They sang hundreds of concerts together, especially in the United States, many of them sponsored by Jewish groups as Raisa had become a beloved ethnic icon. She often closed her recitals with the Yiddish song "Eili, Eili".
On 4 November 1929, she was awarded the honor of opening the new Chicago Civic Opera House in a performance of Aida (broadcast throughout the USA) with a stellar cast personally selected by Civic Opera president Samuel Insull, the Chicago industrialist who later ran foul of the law. Raisa and Rimini invested their considerable earnings in Insull securities (actually a ponzi scheme) and eventually lost their fortune, on paper estimated in the range of a million dollars.
Raisa's relatively few recordings (from 1917-1933 for four different record companies, Pathe, Vocalion, Brunswick, and Voce del Padrone) reveal a beautiful timbre and a florid technique rare in singers of her type. Her famous vocal power, almost always mentioned in reviews, can only be detected in a few of the recordings. An anthology of these recordings was issued in 1998 on CD by Marston Records (number 53001-2). The Marston issue also contains an audio interview with Rosa Raisa, while its liner notes feature valuable biographical information about her and an evaluation of her voice.
In 2001, her biography was published: Rosa Raisa, a Biography of a Diva with Selections from her Memoirs by Charles Mintzer.