Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fiorenza Cossotto

Recebi hoje a minha primeira Opera News. Em papel, pelo menos, uma vez que on-line se podem consultar todos os conteúdos.
De qualquer forma, folhear uma revista é sempre um prazer...
Gostei especialmente de um artigo relativo a uma das grande, se não a maior, Mezzo-soprano, do século XX. A GRANDE Fiorenza Cossotto.
Felizmente, tive a oportunidade, no ano passado, de ver e ouvir a senhora (sim, porque ainda não se retirou completamente), nos ensaios de um Trovador em Estremoz.
Assistir aos ensaios foi uma experiência inesquecível. A voz continua a ser a da Cossotto, com um pouco mais de "Vibratto".
Infelizmente, no dia da récita a Diva foi substituída devido a problemas de saúde.
Para os interessados, deixo o texto da Opera News.

Irene Minghini-Cattaneo ... Ebe Stignani ... Fedora Barbieri ... Giulietta Simionato ... Fiorenza Cossotto: these names evoke large personalities, and even larger voices. They are all members of a lineage, a great tradition — the Italian dramatic mezzo-soprano.

Although composers of opera had been creating roles for lower voices for hundreds of years, the type of big-voiced Italian mezzo typified by the artists listed above emerged only in the twentieth century, when the repertory in which they specialized became somewhat codified — the big-gun Verdi roles, with a sprinkling of bel canto and a few French heroines added to the mix — and the advent of recordings introduced this voice type to the world at large. Listening to these singers, one hears a consistency of approach — tonal opulence, ample volume, rapid vibrato and unbridled passion. (Even the sometimes-reserved Stignani cut loose as Verdi's Azucena).

Fiorenza Cossotto holds a special place in this tradition. She is not only a thrilling exponent — she is, at seventy-one, perhaps the last of the line. Once the still-singing mezzo wallops out her final curse on the priests of Egypt, or her last revelation to di Luna that Manrico is his brother, the curtain will be lowered on what seemed to be an unending era, with an unending supply of artists to fill this niche.

Cossotto herself cannot explain the current drought. "But, what would you like me to tell you?" the mezzo asked on the phone from her home in Crescentino, Vercelli. "It's a rare voice, because it is a voice that is not learned. The mezzo-soprano is born with the voice dark in the middle. When one tries to make the voice dark but is a short soprano, one is finished, because one tires in the middle and loses the high notes. Look, now, at my age, I am still singing — I still go on tour and do my concerts and operas. Last year I sang Amneris in Tokyo, and the most important critic wrote that the more I get on in years, the better I am. Why? Because this is the fruit of an entire life of study, eh?"

Cossotto's musical life began in her hometown, where she still resides. "A teacher heard me, and she heard that I had a voice different from the others, so she always had me do the solo parts. Later this teacher, who was a pianist, called my parents, because she wanted to advise that I be made to study singing. I went to the Torino Conservatory and did a sort of test. There were all the others, and we did a sort of contest, because there were so many of us but so few spots. And I won it and was admitted. In Italy the conservatory is public. I could not do it privately, because I didn't have the financial means. After five years I earned a degree in singing, and right away I did a contest to enter the school at La Scala. I won the contest and became a cadet at the La Scala school. After two months the school closed, and the most deserving ones were retained by the theater."

© Johannes Ifkovits 2006
Cossotto made her La Scala debut in 1957, as Sister Mathilde in the world premiere of Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites, which was sung in Italian. There followed a succession of small parts in which she made a big impression. Renata Scotto recalls, "She was doing small roles, and everybody loved her voice. When I made my debut as Amina [in La Sonnambula] I first met her. When I heard her first as Teresa in Sonnambula, I said, 'Oh my God! Where does this voice come from?' She had this melting, big sound — as Teresa!" Other roles at this time included the Madrigal Singer in Manon Lescaut, in which she was seen by the young bass Ivo Vinco, who courted the mezzo and married her a year later. In 1961, they had their only child, a son, Roberto. As well as Teresa to Callas's Amina, Cossotto sang Artemide to the great diva's Ifigenia in Tauride. The next few seasons brought Suzuki, Fenena (Nabucco), Marina, Hansel and Meg Page, among others. At this same time, her international career took off, with debuts in Wexford (1958, as Giovanna Seymour in Anna Bolena), Covent Garden (Neris in Medea with Callas) and Verona (Amneris, followed by Carmen and Azucena). Her U.S. debut, in Chicago in 1964 as Leonora in Donizetti's La Favorita, was a sensational success, and the young mezzo quickly skyrocketed to assume her place as the leading Italian dramatic mezzo. Engagements all over the world followed, and Cossotto began to build an enormous recorded legacy, which now encompasses a large catalogue of commercial recordings, augmented by many broadcasts and pirated performances available on CD and DVD.

The night of January 5, 1962, will always hold a special place in her heart, however, as it was the night of her Cinderella story on her home turf at La Scala. A revival production of La Favorita, mounted for Simionato, was suddenly without a star. "My lucky night arrived with Favorita. Simionato had become ill, precisely on opening night, and La Scala declared that it had never closed for any reason, and so they called me urgently, and I arrived there a quarter of an hour before the opening. They put the costumes on me, adjusted however they could, and I went on. I did well, because I came from a school like the Conservatorio di Torino, very prepared. I sang without mistakes, and it was my baptism in opera at La Scala! In the review the day after, from the Corriere della Sera, the greatest critic in Italy put a big headline — 'As of yesterday evening, a new star was born.' And from there I started my path in all theaters."

Cossotto's Metropolitan Opera debut, as Amneris, took place on February 6, 1968. By this time the voice was known in New York somewhat from recordings, but nothing could have prepared the public for the size, clarity and thrust of the instrument in the house. Donal Henahan in The New York Times praised not only her voice and skill as a singing actress but her "intelligence and restraint," the latter a characteristic associated less and less with this artist as time went on. The following season, when she first essayed Eboli at the Met, pandemonium ensued. One recalls that the power of Cossotto's voice seemed limitless, and the sheer volume and ease at both ends of the range were staggering, as was the no-holds-barred commitment. The middle register was warmer than it sounded in recordings; the heavy use of the "metal" in her tone, a feature emphasized at that time by the microphone, eventually pervaded her live singing, but not for some years. Allen Hughes in The New York Times reported that her veil song was "a tour de force of vocal and expressive virtuosity. Her voice is not really beautiful, but she can color it so variously as to make you feel it must be."

In the fall of 1970, she brought her Adalgisa to the Met, opposite Joan Sutherland's Norma, impressing observers with her fluid coloratura. This was not merely a huge voice but a sumptuous, well-schooled instrument. Just before that, the mezzo had sung her first New York Santuzza at the Met. Raymond Ericson of The New York Times wrote, "The voice is not so sensuous as it is strong, solid, and, at the top, brilliant. Miss Cossotto combines these resources into an intense portrayal of a desperate woman trapped in excommunication by the church. One pities her less than one is moved by the stubbornness, her fear, and her final tragedy." Harriet Johnson in The Post echoed Ericson's praise but added a warning: "Many mezzo-sopranos try Santuzza ... but only those who are vocally wiser than Miss Cossotto survive it over a period of time. She sang consistently loud and heavily. By overweighing her lower register, her high notes were strained."

Santuzza in the Met's Cavalleria Rusticana brings one to the subject of Franco Zeffirelli's association with the mezzo. Zeffirelli made his feelings about Cossotto public after she sang Adalgisa to Maria Callas's final Normas in 1964 and '65 in his Paris production, mounted for the diva. After those performances, Zeffirelli, feeling the young mezzo was insensitive to the veteran soprano's vocal frailties in their duets, swore he would never work with Cossotto again. (One wonders what might have taken place had a labor dispute — and resulting rescheduling — not prevented Cossotto's participation in the premiere of Zeffirelli's Met Cavalleria production in January 1970.)

The subject of the Callas episode is one for which Cossotto has little patience. "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."

Fortunately, recordings of the final performance made by "pirates" in the audience have surfaced on CD, confirming Cossotto's version of the duet story. Callas omits her first exposed C, choosing a frequently used low alternate. Cossotto hits hers squarely and sustains it. When they reach the final cadenza, Callas manages a high B, with Cossotto a third below her on G. But ascending the scale at the end of the cadenza, Callas does not produce the C to complement Cossotto's high A, and the mezzo is left alone on the note. The audience responds very warmly, however, as they do all evening, encouraging the diva. Furthermore, in the subsequent duet, "Mira, o Norma," which Callas sings in a stunning sustained pianissimo, Cossotto seems to scale her voice down to match that of the ailing soprano.

Cossotto and Ivo Vinco
In 1968 with her then-husband, bass Ivo Vinco
© Erika Davidson 2006
Had Cossotto earned an unblemished reputation for herself as a colleague over the years, the Callas story would probably not have stuck. Sadly, this seems not to be the case. People in the business are reluctant to comment about her as a colleague on the record, preferring to praise her voice and suggest that she was difficult or ungenerous. Scotto, who worked with the mezzo from 1957 to 1993, takes a more circumspect, sympathetic view, chalking Cossotto's behavior up to a deep insecurity that produced a streak of competitiveness — and the need to be perfect. "Her part was always very well sung, because she had to be perfect. We grew up together artistically, and she was a great perfectionist, so that the conductor could say nothing about her musically. She would vocalize in the theater three hours before, singing the opera probably three times before she sings onstage. There were moments she made me angry, but I felt it was not done to show off — well, also she was showing off — but more for her inner person, because it was her character. If she had been another person, I believe she would have enjoyed this beautiful career more. I don't think she enjoyed it. And this is terrible."

Difficulties aside, Cossotto's has been a spectacular career of considerable duration. At the Met, she sang one hundred forty-eight performances between the seasons of 1967–68 and 1988–89. Her roles represented the core repertoire for her fach; in addition to those mentioned above, she essayed only five others — Azucena (which she more or less owned until Dolora Zajick arrived during her final season), Dalila and Carmen (the latter only on tour and in the parks concerts), a fiery Principessa in Adriana Lecouvreur and a stylish Mistress Quickly (which she added in 1985 at the spectacular debut of veteran Giuseppe Taddei). All of these were vivid, memorable interpretations. She has remained a star in starring roles, and her 1985 Amneris in the video of Leontyne Price's telecast farewell is as potent as it was at her debut.

There are, in fact, so many impressive audio and video documents of Cossotto's work that a discussion of them is impossible in this context, but one from a 1971 CBS Camera Three telecast perhaps best demonstrates the mezzo's prodigious gifts. Elegantly gowned, coiffed in the bouffant style of the era, Cossotto lets it rip in white-hot renditions of arias from Adriana Lecouvreur, Don Carlo and Cavalleria Rusticana. But in the middle of the program, she sings Neris's aria, "Solo un pianto," from Cherubini's Medea with utter refinement and a gentle outpouring of gorgeous tone. The rendition is devoid of any gutsy vocal mannerisms, entirely within the style. It is perfection and reflects great respect and seriousness of musical purpose.

Azucena to Robert Merrill’s di Luna in Il
Trovatore at the Met, 1973

© Beth Bergman 2006
In a 1983 OPERA NEWS interview, the mezzo attributed the onslaught of generic singing — and a seeming embarrassment on the part of young singers to cut loose emotionally — to the age of television and movie acting, as well as to the obsession with "a slender body dressed in a chic manner. It is a stylization that signifies nothing." She now adds, "The artist is born, and just as he was born in the 1800s, he's born in the 2000s. It's a question of sensibility. Also, there are no longer so many teachers. At one time we studied with the conductor for one month the phrasing, the way of speaking while singing. Now these things no longer exist. When I do master classes, I take care of, above all, that which singers no longer find: the mode of expression of the text, the color of the sound appropriate to a particular word. This is important! If I were a theater director, I would take on one, two artists of a certain age, who would teach all the young artists how one conveys a character, how a character lives onstage. Only by being near these greats can one learn."

Today, Cossotto is single, her marriage to Vinco having dissolved about ten years ago. "Some surprises jumped out" — she chuckles mischievously — "as can happen with so many couples. I am serene here at home. I do my work." Her work now consists of master classes, balanced with a more modest performing schedule. "Logically, I don't have the engagements as I did at one time, and therefore I squeeze in master classes in the various free periods." What roles does she still sing? "Roles like Eboli, Santuzza, it's logical that I can no longer tackle something like that — there are even [inherent] physical exertions. I still sing Trovatore, Aida, the Messa da Requiem. In other words, those less tiring." Less tiring? "Less tiring. And I added Ballo in Maschera to my repertoire, even if it's not really in my.…" she laughs heartily. "Well, it gives me much satisfaction, because I always have good reviews!"

IRA SIFF is a New York-based voice and interpretation teacher and stage director for opera. He performs as "traumatic soprano" Madame Vera Galupe-Borszkh.

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