Cher Public

For me and my Gaul

The Met hopes to stir up Norma-fever this fall scheduling twelve performances of its new production starring three very different sopranos. I first went bonkers for Bellini’s masterpiece during the previous century when the Met remounted it for Joan Sutherland; “Trove Thursday” presents her imposing Druid priestess paired not with Marilyn Horne but with Fiorenza Cossotto sparring over Charles Craig’s Roman consul at the Teatro Colón. 

One of the first LP sets I wore out was Sutherland’s Art of the Prima Donna, so when a new Norma was announced for “my” second season of Met Saturday afternoon broadcasts I was psyched. A months-long labor strike shortened the 1969-70 season but a settlement meant the Bellini went on as scheduled. I don’t remember if the famous live “Mira, o Norma” duet on Ed Sullivan’s show was televised before or after the opera’s radio broadcast on 4 April 1970 but I was enthralled by both. Affection for I Puritani and La Sonnambula came much later.

In the decades since that pre-pubescent crush I’ve recognized the shortcomings of Sutherland’s Norma particularly the mushy diction and cool dramatic commitment. But I always miss the exhilarating éclat of her florid singing in most every other soprano I’ve since heard in the role.

This Buenos Aires broadcast dates from the year before the astonishing run where she sang 27 performances of Norma with the Met in 1970: eleven during the spring in New York followed by seven on tour with nine more in the house in the fall. She never sang the opera there again although it stayed her repertoire longer than any work besides Lucia—1963-1989.

In all but two of those 27 shows, the Adalgisa was Horne but twice in October Sutherland reunited with Cossotto who would later reprise her role at the Met opposite Montserrat Caballé with whom she sang many many performances of Norma. In addition to recording it with Caballé for RCA, she appears as well as in an oddly abridged version opposite Elena Souliotis on Decca. And there also were Adalgisas with Leyla Gencer, Liljana Molnar-Talajic, Mara Zampieri, Cristina Deutekom and, of course, those notorious Parisian encounters with Maria Callas for which some have still not forgiven the Italian mezzo.

While one might not usually think of the barnstorming Cossotto as a bel canto singer she also performed Bellini’s Romeo, Donizetti’s Leonora (in La Favorita, a favorite role) and Giovanna Seymour, as well as recording Rossini’s Tancredi and singing Clarice in the grossly neglected La Pietra del Paragone and quite a few Rosinas!

English tenor Craig was a stalwart of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden in heavy Italian roles during the 1960s and 70s having only come into his own after the age of 40. He sang rarely in the US—there were three performances of Otello at the Chicago Lyric in 1966 but nothing else that I can track down. Otello was his best known role which he sang all across Europe and one he finally recorded at 61 in English with the ENO.

Not unexpectedly, the two divas’ husbands offer support here as conductor and Oroveso.

The director’s recent Met track record doesn’t give me high hopes for Sir David McVicar’s new Norma which began rehearsals this week. However, I am curious to experience Sondra Radvanovsky, Marina Rebeka and Angela Meade competing with Joyce DiDonato and Jamie Barton (probably in lowered keys) for Joseph Calleja.

Bellini: Norma
Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires
2 July 1969

Norma: Joan Sutherland
Adalgisa: Fiorenza Cossotto
Pollione: Charles Craig
Oroveso: Ivo Vinco

Conductor: Richard Bonynge

This Sutherland-Cossotto Norma can be downloaded by clicking on the icons of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 files will appear in your download directory.

Norma, last week’s Telemann Der geduldige Sokrates and more than 80 “Trove Thursday” podcasts remain available from iTunes—for free, or via any RSS reader.

  • Thanks for this Christopher! I look forward to hearing it. Cossotto was a very well-schooled mezzo. I’ve heard her Adalgisa once (opposite Elinor Ross, not the famed Orange Norma with Caballe). She’s good in it and 1969 would have caught her at her best.

    • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

      ??? Isn’t it Josephine Veasey with Caballe at Orange?

      • Porgy Amor

        Yes. Kashania may be thinking of either the dully conducted RCA studio recording, or one of a number of live ones from other venues. Caballé and Cossotto sang the opera together often, but not at Orange.

      • Yes, as Porgy has suggested, I was thinking of a different performance – in this case a video I’d seen of one of their duets from a Madrid performance.

  • agh1

    Charles Craig was indeed a late starter. Born in 1919, the youngest of 15 children, he appears to have had no musical training, but during his wartime servive in the army began to take part in troop concerts. On the foundation of the Covent Garden Opera Company in 1946 he gained a place in its chorus and was soon given small parts. such as the first prisoner in Fidelio. When Beecham returned to the ROH in 1951 he heard Craig, was greatly impressed, and paid for him to have lessons with Dino Borgioli. But major roles at Covent Garden had still to come. .In search of more money, Craig in 1953 joined the touring Carl Rosa Opera Company and by 1957 was singing major roles in London with both that and the Sadlers Wells Company (forerunners of the English National Opera). His work with these companies led to his being invited back to Covent Garden in 1959, at the age of 40, to sing Pinkerton opposite Jurinac. He had a great success, reoeated later that year when he sang Cavaradossi opposie Rysanek -= both of which I was fortunate to hear. Later he became a stalwart there in such parts as Radames, Turiddu and elsewhere as Siegmund. (It was only very late in his career that he sang Otello at Covent Garden -- after he had sung it in Vienna and Salzburg,). Amidst these dramatic roles in 1965 he was, somewhat surprisingly, Arturo oppposite Sutherland in her first ROH performances of Puritani.

    • CarlottaBorromeo

      Charlie Craig, despite his success in the role around the world (and in London with ENO in English), only sang Otello at Covent Garden as a jump-in, replacing Domingo in, I think, two performances in 1983. At the first of these just about every other tenor who was in London at the time seemed to have found their way into the auditorium. He did not disappoint

    • Camille

      Thank you for the interesting insights into this great tenor. I’ve heard him once before (cannot recall where or in what) but this time I shall remember because he was one helluva Pollione, meat and bones and the whole buffet as well, and can imagine his Otello from the performance above, which I would have thoroughly relished.

      I always enjoy so much when you pop in with these remembrances of London/Covent Garden, c. 1950’s, a period I’ve only read and wondered of.

  • Porgy Amor

    There is a good live Don Carlo from Buenos Aires, 1967, with two of the soloists in this Norma, Charles Craig and Fiorenza Cossotto. The others of the big six are Gwyneth Jones, Gabriel Bacquier, Jerome Hines, and William Wildermann; De Fabritiis conducts. This is not an orchestrally tidy performance;there is just as much of the score as you would expect in that time and place, and the leading ladies seem in competition to see who can inspire more sweaty delirium in the very enthusiastic crowd (going by the audio of the ovations, I’d rate it a draw). It’s that sort of Don Carlo. But I quite like Craig’s performance of the title role.

    I have this on Myto, and I see it has been uploaded in its entirety to…the usual place.

  • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

    At the Sutherland/Cossotto Met NORMA (October 1970) with Bergonzi (the other performance featured John Alexander as Pollione) there were more than vocal fireworks. At the curtain calls, Bergonzi, normally calm and staid, was obviously furious and upset. You could almost see smoke coming out of his ears. I don’t know or remember exactly what triggered it but before the gold curtain he stormed to one side of the stage and Cossotto went to the other, as far away as they could get, with Bergonzi glaring and fuming. Totally out of character for him. Cossotto, by the way, was a very good Adalgisa. I saw her with Sutherland and Caballe.

    • Luvtennis

      I had the great privilege of speaking with Bergonzi for nearly an hour when I was an undergrad at Harvard in the early 90s. He was such a gentlemen. And he was so positive about his experiences as an opera singer…but he was not shy about rating his divas….????

  • Sanford Schimel

    The very first recording of Verdi’s Macbeth I ever owned was Cossotto/Milnes/Muti and the three of them are on fire.

  • Michael Delos

    Cossotto had a reputation of taking NO prisoners when she was competing for the limelight. It’s difficult to tell whether it was the microphone placement that made her “non tonic” note so prominent while Sutherland batted out the High D in the trio -- In any case, it’s out of place at that moment. I heard Cossotto in her big roles: Amneris, Azucena, Eboli. The voice was well suited to singing the NORMA duets with Sutherland, as both had vocal productions that caused the overtones to almost seem to vibrate in a cone around their bodies. Treigle was the only other singer I heard who had that kind of extra-body resonance.

    • Porgy Amor

      When she took a joint bow with another singer, you could often read things into the body language. She and Kraus come out together at the end of the 1971 Tokyo Favorita that was filmed for Japanese television (they’re both wonderful in that), and it is revealing. They acknowledge the crowd and he kisses her hand like a perfect Spanish gentleman, but he’s so cool and wary with it. It suggests quite the opposite of affection. I think even if I’d never read or heard a word about her reputation among colleagues, I would know something was up.

    • Yeah, I love me some Cossotto but everything she does fairly screams “Me, me, pay attention to ME!!” (even more so than the usual diva). Perhaps the most vulgar display was at Price’s Farewell Aida which Cossotto and her claque tried to turn into her moment, instead of Price’s. Really class-less stuff.

      • Michael Delos

        Yes, I wonder what Cossotto’s florist bill was for that evening and who was responsible for distributing all those IDENTICAL, spontaneously purchased bouquets to the faithful? And the look on her face as they are dutifully hurled, “Me? You liked…. Me???”

        • I do admire her skill. Some 30 years into her career, she could still look genuinely surprised and even moved by the pre-planned ovation. It’s a shame really. She was a beloved singer and she deserved great ovations. She didn’t need to pay for them.

          • Luvtennis

            Lol! Yes, she was old school. In the absolute most provincial sense of the word…. but she was at her best a great singer. Her Azucena on the Mehta recording has been my benchmark since I first heard it nearly 30 years ago.

            • I recently heard her Marfa on the Italian Khovanshchina (a new opera for me and increasingly a favourite). Talk about singing the hell out of a role.

            • Liz.S

              OMG… with Siepi & Ghiaurov? Must buy now! :D -- thank you for letting us know!

              Talking about Khovanshchina -- it’s off the track but I’m so sad the Met didn’t leave a visual recording of the last outing for the next generations. It was superbly done by Kirill Petrenko (I can still vividly recall how he did it -- still in awe), with Kotscherga (such a belated house debut), Borodina, Galouzine, Gagnidze, Easterlin, u.a.

            • Liz, it is fabulous. You won’t regret it.

  • Armerjacquino

    I know the abridged Suliotis/Cossotto NORMA is a bit of a famous disaster but I really like it.

    Also- famous disaster fans may enjoy the fact that the booed Suliotis/Tatum Carnegie Hall NORMA is now represented on YT by the big duet.

    • Damianjb1

      I love that recording too. Del Monaco and Cossotto are amazing in the Pollione/Adalgisa duet. Maybe not the most stylish singing but it’s exhilarating.

  • Nelly della Vittoria

    On another note, what a treat that video excerpt of her Rosina is; I’d never seen it before.

  • DW

    I’ve listened to about half of this Norma and am enjoying it immensely. But I’m also loving the Rosina clip above…tough to believe FC is also one of the best post-WWII Amnerises. Roulades are slightly aspirated, but much cleaner than I expected! A surprise Bel cantrix…

  • Nelly della Vittoria

    I think I do rather think of Cossotto in conjunction with this repertoire, though. After all, to get through the first act duet, an Adalgisa has to (or should have to) sing rapid scales and turns (Tu rendi a me la vita / Se non è colpa amor!) and as Giovanna Seymour in 1970, she’s accurate and thrilling in the florid music (La pietade Enrico ascolti! — though it’s hard to find a gifted mezzo who doesn’t make a feast of this scene).

  • Daniel Swick
    She’s really good in this…as Cherubino.

    • Camille

      Yes, actually, she is. It’s the Giulini recording by which I made my initial acquaintance of her singing and it was a pleasant one.

      Although a mature and feminine sound she was still able to create the impression of a characterization through her excellent singing. I also liked the bits of her Favorita I’ve heard, even if very fond of Simionato’s.

      Of her famous Amneris I know of only the stories so I guess I’m not going there.

      I’m reminded of an old friend, a baritone, who once told me that her parents approached him about the possibility of marriage to her — I don’t know when that was — but in any case, the marriage did not occur. Neither did he ever say why not, nor did he have anything negative to say about her. Suffice it to say she preferred a basso.

      There is a very entertaining ancdote about La Flo and Sig.r. Vinco’s experiences in New Orleans in the Immortal and Unforgettable “Où va la ieune ANDOUILLE” by the late, great Enzo Bordello from the early days of parterre BOX, tucked away in the Archives, for those of you who may want to further peruse the Cossotto legend.

      As Amneris was wont to say…”Pace….”

      • Porgy Amor

        I found rather touching the apparent devotion of Cossotto to her ex-husband in his terminal stage. I know that she was regularly making the trip from Crescentino to Verona to be by his bedside, and that is not exactly around the corner; it’s almost a three-hour trip by road. They were together for many years, personally and professionally, but that was long over. Of course, there are things that are private and should remain so, but perhaps there are bonds that cannot be broken. It is nice to think so.

      • Daniel Swick

        I LOVE those stories from New Orleans! What a fun time that I have been.

      • Daniel Swick

        I love those stories from New Orleans! What a fun time it must have been.

  • Daniel Swick
    Holy shit…Jones’ voice is HUGE.

  • Niel Rishoi

    This is from the complete RCA set. You can hear how sweet toned and eloquent Cossotto could be in her singing; her start of “Mira, o Norma is just gorgeous -- long-lined, beautiful legato, and sensitivity to the text.

    • Samson got a Buzzcut

      Caballe and Cossotto sing the “Mira, o Norma” up in the original key of F for the studio recording. I agree with Niels: it is gorgeous singing. They sang it down a tone for stage performances.