Fiorenza Cossotto (born April 22, 1935) is an Italian mezzo-soprano. She is considered by many to be one of the greatest mezzo-sopranos of the 20th century.
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. The last performance of the latter was truncated when Callas’ walked out right after their quintessential duet, “Mira, o Norma.” Some claim that Cossotto intentionally sabotaged Callas by singing over her and holding high notes longer with the latter’s voice (by that time, 1965) past its prime and in poor form. Others claim, in favor of Cossotto, that she encouraged Callas to sing as best as she could, and was quite cautious with her and tried to give her as much support as she could.
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 warhorse. 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 Onassis’s elite [retinue] was in the theater. But logically she couldn’t [sing], because she had already sung two performances [with] 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; [but] 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 take curtain calls and 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.”
“…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.”
Fiorenza Cossotto as Leonora in La favorita at Lyric, 1974. Image: lyricopera.org.