At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Fiorenza Cossotto - operatic mezzo-soprano

Career overshadowed by story of ‘row’ with Maria Callas


Fiorenza Cossotto is considered among the finest mezzo-sopranos of the 20th century
Fiorenza Cossotto is considered among the
finest mezzo-sopranos of the 20th century
Fiorenza Cossotto, a singer considered one of the greatest mezzo-sopranos of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1935 in Crescentino in Piedmont.

Cossotto was hailed for her interpretations of the major mezzo and contralto roles from mid-19th-century Italian operas, particularly those of Giuseppe Verdi such as Aida, Il trovatore and Don Carlos, but also Gaetano Donizetti, Amilcare Ponchielli, Vincenzo Bellini and the other important composers of the day.

Yet she is often remembered for a supposed spat with Maria Callas that led the Greek-American soprano to walk off the stage during her final performance at the Opéra in Paris of her signature role in Bellini’s Norma in 1965.

The incident in question took place immediately after Callas, as Norma, and Cossotto, as Adalgisa, had joined in their duet ‘Mira, o Norma’.

Callas, by that stage a little below her prime, was notoriously temperamental and within moments onlookers were imagining a row, theorising that Cossotto had tried to sabotage Callas’s performance by holding her own high notes longer and singing over Callas.

It did not help that Franco Zeffirelli, whose production it was, and at least one other member of the cast, would not deny that this had happened.

Cossotto led a long and highly successful career
Cossotto led a long and highly
successful career
Cossotto herself, now entering her 84th year, insists that the story is a fabrication concocted “to enrich books and articles” and that she was trying only to help Callas, who was unwell with a cold but felt obliged to sing because Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping tycoon with whom she shared her life, had brought with him his entire entourage to witness the performance.

In interviews many years later she said that when Callas tried to sing the high ‘C’ required of her in the piece no sound came out. She said: “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!'”

Cossotto also claims that Callas, whom she counted as a friend, not only asked for her in person to be Adalgisa to her Norma in the production but, during the performance, asked her not to leave the theatre after her involvement ended so that they could take the curtain calls together, something she would not have done had the two been at odds.

As a girl, Cossotto attended the Turin Academy of Music and studied with Mercedes Llopart. She made her operatic debut in the world premiere of Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites in 1957 at La Scala in Milan. Her part was so small he had only one line to deliver.

Maria Callas: Cossotto denied that the two fell out, insisting they were good friends
Maria Callas: Cossotto denied that the two
fell out, insisting they were good friends
Her international debut came at the 1958 Wexford Festival as Giovanna Seymour in Donizetti's Anna Bolena and she performed at Covent Garden for the first time in 1959 as Neris in Luigi Cherubini's Médée, with Callas in the title role.

Cossotto began to attract wide acclaim following her 1962 performance of the lead in Donizetti’s La favorita at La Scala. 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.

In two spells at the Met, in 1967–68 and 1988–89, Cossotto gave 148 performances.

During her career, she was Adalgisa alongside the Normas of Callas, Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé, Leyla Gencer, Elinor Ross and Elena Souliotis, although she said she drew more satisfaction from singing Amneris in Aida and Azucena in Il trovatore.

Cossotto was married to the Italian bass Ivo Vinco until they divorced after more than 40 years together.  They had a son, Roberto.

She celebrated her 70th birthday in 2005 by appearing in Giacomo Puccini’s one-act opera Suor Angelica at the Théâtre Royal in Liège, Belgium.  Since retiring as a performer, she has accepted a number of invitations to teach.

She still lives in Crescentino, as does her son and his family.  Ivo Vinco died in 2014.

Crescentino, with the rice fields in the distance
Crescentino, with the rice fields in the distance
Travel tip:

Crescentino is a village in the province of Vercelli in Piedmont, located about 35km (22 miles) northeast of Turin and about 30km (19 miles) southwest of Vercelli.  Some of the village was destroyed during the Second World War when houses were set on fire by German troops as part of an ongoing conflict with Italian partisans. After the war the area prospered through rice production in the Po Valley.  The main square, Piazza Vische, contains a 13th century church and the 31m Civic Tower. On the outskirts of the village is the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Palazzo.

The Piazza Cavour in Vercelli
The Piazza Cavour in Vercelli
Travel tip:

The rice fields of the Po Valley form the largest rice production area in the whole of Europe, mainly centred on the province of Vercelli, between Milan and Turin, in which the town of Vercelli is surrounded in the summer months by submerged paddy fields, for which water is supplied by a canal from the Po River.  Rice has been grown in the area since the 15th century.

More reading:

The diva who came to blows with a rival on stage

How Franco Zeffirelli bestrode the opera and the cinema

Verdi: When Italy mourned the loss of a national icon

Also on this day:

1891: The birth of racing car engine designer Vittorio Jano

2006: The death of actress Alida Valli


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