Fiorenza Cossotto



 Fiorenza Cossotto is an Italian mezzo soprano. She is considered by many to be one of the great mezzo-sopranos of the 20th century, a natural successor to Giulietta Simionato.

Life and career

Born on April 22, 1935 in Crescentino di Vercelli, Italy, Cossotto attended the Turin Academy of Music and graduated top of her class. After her studies with Mercedes Llopart, she made her operatic debut as Sister Matilde in the world premiere of Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites in 1957 at La Scala in Milan. Her international debut was at the 1958 Wexford Festival as Giovanna Seymour in Donizetti's Anna Bolena. Her Covent Garden debut was in 1959 as Neris in Cherubini's Médée, with Maria Callas in the title role. A 1962 performance of the lead in La favorita at La Scala led to wider fame and she made her American debut in the same role in 1964 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and as Amneris at the Metropolitan Opera in 1968.

Altogether between the seasons of 1967–68 and 1988–89 she gave one hundred forty-eight performances at the Met (exclusively leading roles). Expert in the heavy Italian roles of the middle 19. century - Favorita, Amneris, Azucena, Eboli, Preziosilla, Maddalena, Ulrica, Laura - but also essayed Carmen, Mozart's Cherubino, Urbain in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots, Bellini's Romeo and Marfa in Khovantschina.

She kept on singing, and in 2005 she celebrated her 70th birthday with a performance of Suor Angelica at the Théâtre Royal in Liège, Belgium.

She was married to the Italian bass Ivo Vinco for over 40 years, and had a son, Roberto. The marriage ended in divorce.

Cossotto and Callas

Fiorenza sang with Maria Callas as early as 1957 in Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, and many times later, until Callas' last Norma in Paris. However, at the last performance, right after their duet, Callas canceled the rest of the performance. Some claim that Cossotto intentionally sabotaged Callas by over-singing her and holding high notes longer when the latter's voice (by that time - 1965) was in poor form. Others claim in favor of Cossotto that she encouraged Callas to do the best that she could, and otherwise was quite cautious with her and tried to back her up. Private recordings made at the time (and issued subsequently) are interpreted in both ways. Both Cossotto (in an interview, 2006) and Ivo Vinco (1982) said that Callas was a great friend of Cossotto, and it was she who invited her to sing Adalgisa. On the other hand, Zeffirelli and Simionato were both on the accusers' side. This occasion is under a debate still, mainly because the main figure who could tell the truth died in 1977.

Cossotto on the subject:
"But look, it's a disgrace! It's been forty years, and books still come out speaking ill of me. The first year, we did our rehearsals, and everything went well. Callas was in good voice. There was no reason for her not to do Norma, which was her war-horse. During the last two performances [in 1965], she was not well — she had a cold, which passed down [into the chest]. The last performance, poor thing, she couldn't say no, because all of Onassis's elite was in the theater. But logically, she couldn't [sing], because she had already sung two performances on the cold. You don't play with Norma! In the [first] duet, it goes up to an A for the mezzo-soprano, and Callas must do the C. And the C didn't come out. When we got to the end of the duet, she could no longer do [here Cossotto sings the four ascending notes to the C]. But I couldn't hear this. I didn't know if she sang or didn't sing. I thought, it was better I sing my A calmly, so people won't notice, just in case. Instead, they started to say, 'Look, she sings when the other one doesn't sing anymore!' But, the other one didn't make a sound because she was ill — the voice didn't come out.
"Later, Callas, at the end of the second act, said to me, 'Fiorenza, stay tonight until the end, because I am not well, and we will all go out [to bow] together.' We'll make a bit of a good impression is what she wanted to say. 'Look,' I said, 'I can't, because I have to pack, since tomorrow morning I have to leave really early, but let's see.' My hotel was right next to the Opéra. I said, 'I'll manage. I'll go and come back right away.' If she had been angry with me, she wouldn't have said this. Is it true or not? But no one has ever published this! They have never said, 'Callas insisted that Cossotto be present at the end of the third act, that she go and thank the audience.' So, how does one explain this? If I had sung an extra note — something only idiots can assert — she wouldn't have said to me, 'Stay.' She would have been angry. From there it started. Even now, at a distance of forty years, they still speak ill of me. She wanted me the second year, wanted my presence. So, what is all this fantasy? They do it to enrich the books and the articles, and so they damage a person. I tried to help her onstage in every way. I have always been a serious colleague, not a colleague who does harm to people."

Simionato's claim:
"...she [Callas] asked me to sing with her in two of her final performances of Norma [in Paris], for her other partner [Fiorenza Cossotto] had been behaving inconsiderately."

Spectrum of roles

According to the book "Opera" published by Koenemann, "She [Cossotto] and Giulietta Simionato were the leading Italian mezzo-sopranos of the 1960s and 1970's. She [Cossotto] won plaudits in the annals of operatic history for her wonderful vocal timbre, her perfect singing technique, and the ease with which she could master different registers. Besides singing the great mezzo roles, she also took the outstanding alto parts of the Italian operatic repertoire." Among her competitors were Shirley Verrett and Grace Bumbry, Rita Gorr, Christa Ludwig, Marilyn Horne and Tatiana Troyanos.

It should be noted that apart from mezzo and alto roles she also sang soprano roles which are traditionally sung by mezzos, such as Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) and Adalgisa (Norma).

She sang Adalgisa next to the Normas of Callas, Joan Sutherland, Caballé, Gencer and Elena Souliotis. Full live documents (except for Callas which is partial) of these performances are commercially released in either audio or video.

She also tried her luck in soprano roles (alas in studio only) of Lady Macbeth and Marchesa del Poggio (Un giorno di regno), and made a commercial recording of soprano arias by Verdi.

Her repertory at the Met included Amneris, Eboli, Adalgisa, Santuzza, Azucena, Dalila, Carmen (only on tour and in the park concerts), Principessa (Adriana Lecouvreur) and Mistress Quickly (which she added in 1985 next to Taddei as Falstaff (opera)).

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Composers' compositions