Mezzo soprano Fiorenza Cossotto has been awarded the first Contr’alto di donna prize, given in honour of the great contralto Marietta Alboni.
The ceremony and conversation with Fiorenza Cossotto came after a concert celebrating the repertoire of Alboni, held in the enchanting Teatro Bonci, the theatre of her hometown Cesana, near Italy’s northeast coast.
Cossotto, seventy-nine next month, strode on stage and spoke with an energy which belies her years. She has the easy manner and laugh of a local barmaid, yet is precise and sensitive in commenting on music and her roles. For someone whose powerful voice gives the impression that she came out of the womb singing, it is surprising to hear her recount how long she practiced, the the intensity with which he studied a new part… and how exhausted she was after performances Il Trovatore or La Favorita, the role which made her internationally famous after her triumph when substituting an indisposed Giulietta Simionato at La Scala in 1962.
Although as Rosina she sings “sarò una vipera”, Cossotto says that her approach to the role was more human, and never like a viper. She recalled her fear when she débuted in Les Huguenots at La Scala with Joan Sutherland, Franco Corelli and Giulietta Simionato; she sang Urbain which goes up to a high-C: she was 27-years-old. She remembered her first Eboli when the management at the Teatro Colón warned her that there would likely be little applause as it was a largely corporate audience, yet the ovation brought the house down after her Veil Song.
Although Alboni was not born in Cesena, it became her home when she was a young girl and the town takes her as theirs. They are rightly proud, for Alboni had an extraordinary career, with Rossini taking her under his wing when she was just thirteen, and organising her studies. Her début at La Scala came when she was sixteen. When she was twenty-two, Meyerbeer composed the aria “Non! – non, non, non, non, non!” for her to sing as the page Urbain, and changed the role from soprano to contralto for her. She sang at Rossini’s funeral with Adelina Patti.
The biennial award was presented to Fiorenza Cossotto in recognition for her exceptional career, which touched on various roles sung by Marietta Alboni.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.