Antonio Cotogni (August 1, 1831 – October 15, 1918) was an Italian baritone of the first magnitude. Regarded internationally as being one of the greatest male opera singers of the 19th century, he was particularly admired by the composer Giuseppe Verdi. Cotogni forged an important second career as a singing teacher after his retirement from the stage in 1898.
Early years, study, church singer
A native of Rome, Cotogni was of humble origins to Rallaele Cotogni and Agata Fazzini, both Roman. His father managed a small majolica plant. After some initial studies at the Hospice of San Michele, he studied music theory at Santa Maria Maggiore under Fontemaggi. Soon after, he began working with Achille Faldi on the study of singing itself. Under his guidance, Cotogni made his first public ventures into solo singing but only in the principal churches of Rome and in small summer music festivals in the small towns of the province, such as Anagni, Valmontone, Subisco, Velletri, and Viterbo.
Early on, Cotogni worked part-time in a majolica plant and did not care much for theater. He had no pretensions for assuming a career there and was content to remain a church singer. He won his first success in 1851 singing Salvatore Capocci's oratorio Il martirio di Sant'Eustachio at the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella.
About his training prior to his Italian stage debut, Cotogni told a former student:
"For the first year I sang nothing but scales. In the second year, vocal exercises and simple songs. Third year, training in operatic music, chiefly solos. Fourth year, ensembles, duets, trios, etc. Fifth year, training in scenic action, mostly in front of a looking-glass." This may be to a certain extent too rigid a description, but the fact remains that, as Cotogni said, his master considered him fit for the stage when there was not a single opera in the current repertoire which he did not know backwards, and when, as he reproachfully added every time I tried to find an excuse for missing a top note, he could be awakened at 3 a.m. and made to give an A flat mezza voce. Cotogni sang on the stage for over forty years.—The Gramophone, November 1924, The Gramophone, Volume 2
Debut in the theater
In 1852, after much insistence from Faldi and castrato Domenico Mustafà, among others, he agreed to sign a contract for his debut at Rome's Teatro Metastasio, as Belcore in L'elisir d'amore. For the next year, he did not sing in public at all but rather studied assiduously with Faldi to build his repertoire. After an initial contract at Spoleto for Il trovatore and Maria di Rohan, he began to pick up consistent work in the Italian operatic circuit with Rigoletto, Lucrezia Borgia, I puritani, Lucia di Lamermoor, Gemma di Vergy, I due Foscari, La traviata, to name just a few operas from his vast early repertory.
He sang with enormous success, eventually reaching La Scala, Milan, in 1860. During the ensuing decades, he also appeared at the leading opera houses in Madrid, Lisbon, Paris, London, Moscow and St Petersburg. He became enormously popular with London audiences, performing at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, from 1867 to 1889. He sang at St Petersburg in 26 successive seasons.
Cotogni was an especial favorite of Verdi's, who praised him for the beauty, warmth and strength of his voice, as well as for the emotional intensity which he brought to his musical interpretations. He sang most of the major Verdi baritone roles and took part in the first Italian staging of Don Carlo, in Bologna in 1867, under the supervision of the composer. But his operatic triumphs were not confined to Verdi's compositions. He was also a brilliant exponent of the elegant but technically demanding bel canto music of Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini.
After retirement, voice teacher at Santa Cecilia
Cotogni retired from the operatic stage in February 1898. Hi roles ranged from the major parts in Mozart's Italian operas through to what were, from Cotogni's perspective, cutting-edge modern parts in such verismo works as Pagliacci and Manon Lescaut. His interpretations of the lead baritone characters in Un ballo in maschera, Ernani, Linda di Chamounix, Faust, L'elisir d'amore and Il barbiere di Siviglia were especially admired. Cotogni's final appearance was as Don Pasquale in Donizetti's comic opera of the same name.
In retirement, Cotogni became one of the most celebrated vocal teachers in history. He taught briefly in St Petersburg (at the invitation of Anton Rubinstein) but he had to abandon this post in consequence of a serious illness, subsequently taking up an appointment in 1902 as a professor at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Here he founded what became known as the "Roman School of Singing". Some of his students during this period:
Beniamino Gigli recounts his association with Cotogni and how the latter coached Mattia Battistini in the role of Don Giovanni.
My first professor was the great baritone Antonio Cotogni. He had been on the board of examiners at the entrance examination, and had chosen me then and there to be one of his students. I consider it a privilege to have known Cotogni. He was not only a great artist, but also an exceptionally good and generous man who took a personal interest, not only in the musical progress of his students, but also in their material welfare, going so far as to send anonymous gifts of shoes, an overcoat or even money, when he thought they were needed. He was completely free from the pettiness and envy that are common to so many singers.
After having spent almost thirty years as 'the Tsar's baritone' at the Moscow Imperial Theatre, he was still at the height of his fame when another Italian baritone, Battistini, appeared on the Moscow scene. Cotogni immediately decided that his own innings had lasted long enough, and he set about training the younger man as his successor.
He called on Battistini unannounced one morning at eight o'clock. Battistini was somewhat taken aback. 'Young man,' said Cotogni without preamble, 'you must lose no time in preparing yourself to take over the role of Don Giovanni. Now, there are certain traditions attached to this role as sung at the Imperial Theatre; let me explain them to you.' The night Battistini made his Moscow début in 'Don Giovanni', Cotogni embraced him in full view of the audience, and then spoke a few words of farewell. He left for Rome the following day, and never sang in opera again. So great was his prestige that the Academy of Santa Cecilia promptly offered him a professorship.
When I arrived, he had been teaching there for twenty years or more. I had never known anyone like Cotogni. It thrilled me to sit in his class and think that here I was, being taught by someone who had himself been one of the greatest singers in Europe. Moreover, one felt somehow ennobled by his very presence. It was natural, therefore, that I should have felt indignant when Falchi, the director of the Academy, told me that I was wasting my time in Cotogni's class. Where, I demanded, outraged, could one find a greater, more eminent teacher? The training of my voice, he said, was now his responsibility. Cotogni was over eighty years of age, and his energy was failing. If I wanted to make progress, I should enrol as a student of Maestro Enrico Rosati. I held out stubbornly as long as I could, but Falchi was, after all, the director of the Academy, and in the end I felt obliged to follow his advice. I hardly knew what explanation to give Cotogni, and as for Rosati, I entered his class unwillingly and with a very bad grace.
During this time, twelve-year-old Luigi Ricci (who would later become a vocal coach) began accompanying voice lessons given by Cotogni, who had performed several of Verdi's operas under the composer's supervision. At this early age, Ricci began taking meticulous notes on traditions that Cotogni passed on to him from his own work with Verdi and other 19th century composers and conductors. Ricci continued such copious note taking throughout his life and eventually compiled these into a four-part collection entitled Variazioni-cadenze tradizioni per canto (two volumes and two appendices published by Casa Ricordi, 1963).
Cotogni ranks with his contemporaries Francesco Graziani, Jean-Baptiste Faure and Sir Charles Santley as the foremost baritone of his star-studded generation. He "had a very brief and scarcely revealing relationship with the gramophone; at the age of 77... with the tenor Francesco Marconi, he recorded [the] duet 'I mulattieri'", writes Michael Scott. "Not surprisingly Marconi gets the better of it. Still, however difficult it is to make out Cotogni's contribution, it is all we have left of a singer who for over 40 years dominated the stages in London, Madrid and Lisbon, St. Petersburg and Moscow and throughout Italy." Two other recordings, at times believed to be of Cotogni, are in fact the voice of tenore robusto Francesco Tamagno's brother, Giovanni. Comparisons of these two recordings—"O casto fior" and "Ti vorrei rapire" (formerly misidentified as "Perche?")—with the Tamagno brothers' recording of the Otello duet "Si pel ciel" reveals the baritone voice to be identical in timbre and production, with its thin and nasal qualities, especially in the passagio. These stand in contradistinction to the voice confirmed to be Cotogni's (the Mulattieri duet), which is noticeably more even, round, and powerful throughout—even to the two high G naturals that end the refrain.
Cotogni died of old age in Rome less than a month prior to the 1918 armistice which ended World War I.
As a child, Cotogni had merely a weak soprano voice, but it did begin to increase in volume and darken, turning later into a contralto voice. As a teenager, his voice finally began to break into that of a young man, and the head music teacher Scardovelli forbade him to sing; Cotogni grudgingly obeyed and was silent for about six months. After this period of rest, he began to find a few notes, then went on to enrich and strengthen his vocal means continuously until the complete development of a nice baritone voice.
According to his biographer, Cotogni's professional/usable vocal range was from A1 to B4, though a handful of his roles and even his interpolations and cadenzas require a half-step lower—A♭1. According to Ricci, his other noted interpolations include a high G♯ in Posa's romanza "Carlo, ch'è sol il nostro amore" in Don Carlo; high A♭'s in "O de verd'anni miei" and "O sommo Carlo" from Ernani and the end of "Suoni la tromba" in I puritani; and a quick high A♮in a roulade on the word "piacere" in "Largo al factotum" from Il barbiere di Siviglia. He did, however, chide Titta Ruffo for interpolating an unwritten high B♭ in Hamlet:
not only because it was foreign to the baritone register, but because nature had granted [Ruffo] a voice so beautiful and rich that [he] had no need to borrow effects from elsewhere.—Titta Ruffo, La mia parabola
It is unlikely, therefore, that Cotogni ever touched a note above the high A♮ except in his private exercises.
Journalistic reviews of his performances were often superlative.
A full voice that is mellow, flexible, and well-schooled; persona; expression; and mastery of the scene all combine to make Cotogni the model artist, a perfect singer. The public hangs on every word from his lips. The pathetic scene of the recognition of the daughter, Cotogni masterfully portrayed the truth, singing and reciting his part with heartbreaking accent. He painted ever so gently his romance "Ambo nati," and the first act duet with the thunderous Nannetti[...] was a real delirium, [stirring] unheard of fanaticism. Even I, an old theatergoer, have never heard the duet performed with such color, with so much strength and homogeneity.—a critic, of a performance of Linda di Chamounix at Firenze, in 1886
Cotogni, who can well be called the prince of baritones today, has definitively captivated the audience. This singer, of a voice bother powerful and suave, really is something extraordinary. He sings like few can sing, and although his part fraught with difficulties, he breaks down everything and overcomes them with ease, with astounding ownership; in him one find not effort nor the slightest fatigue: even if sometimes he has been singing with full vibration and power, his voice can still come out quiet and safe. His ways are often exceptional, and not content with the difficulties inherent to the score, he will add new ones—always tasteful, and it seems he delights in defying them. The voice of this singer leaves an everlasting impression on you.—Pietro Faustini, Gazzetta Musicale di Milano
The voice of the Cotogni is full, smooth, equal, of a most sympathetic timbre, and it moves the audience especially when he sings a fior di labbra. This most perfect artist makes every one of his parts into a creation. With great difficulty could there ever arise another singer who could emulate him; surpass him, never.—Carlo Schmidl, Dizionario universale dei musicisti
It is of physiological interest that Cotogni suffered from a lateral lisp:
A most remarkable illustration of this was the famous baritone, Cotogni, who used to sing Figaro to Patti's Rosina at Covent Garden in Rossini's Barbiere. His delivery of the ' Largo al factotum ' was as quick and lively as that of the present-day Titta Ruffo, and certainly more distinct ; and in the recitative of the Figaro of Le Nozze his clear utterance was beyond reproach. Yet it is a fact of which all his friends were aware that Cotogni suffered from an impediment in his speech which in ordinary conversation was painfully evident. He did not stammer — people who stammer badly but do not hesitate when singing or reciting are not uncommon. He made a whistling sound with the sides of his tongue against his teeth that was worse than a lisp. The moment he began to sing it entirely disappeared.—Herman Klein, Herman Klein and the Gramophone
Cotogni sang one hundred fifty-seven works, but his biographer, Nino Angelucci was only able to cite these one hundred and forty-five. Of the other twelve, he could track down neither the title nor the name of the composer.
|Amadei||Roberto Amadei||Luchino Visconti||Lugo|
|Auber||Daniel Auber||Diamanti della corona||Rebolledo||London|
|Auber||Daniel Auber||Le domino noir||Gil Perez||London|
|Beethoven||Ludwig van Beethoven||Fidelio||Don Pizarro||London|
|Bellini||Vincenzo Bellini||Beatrice di Tenda||Filippo||Venice|
|Bellini||Vincenzo Bellini||I Capuleti e i Montecchi||Genova|
|Bellini||Vincenzo Bellini||I puritani||Riccardo||Milan|
|Bellini||Vincenzo Bellini||La sonnambula||Rodolfo||London|
|Berlioz||Hector Berlioz||La damnation de Faust||Méphistophélès||Rome|
|Bevenuti||Tommaso Bevenuti||La stella di Toledo||Genova|
|Bottesini||Giovanni Bottesini||L'assedio di Firenze||Giovanni Bandino||Milan|
|Cagnoni||Antonio Cagnoni||Don Bucefalo||Trieste|
|Cagnoni||Antonio Cagnoni||Il vecchio della montagna||Milan|
|Centolani||Ambrogio Centolani||Isabella Orsini||Lugo|
|Cimarosa||Domenico Cimarosa||Le astuzie femminili||Dottor Romualdo||London|
|Cimarosa||Domenico Cimarosa||Il matrimonio segreto||Count Robinson||Madrid|
|Coccia||Carlo Coccia||Disertore per amore||Asti|
|De Ferrari||Serafino Amedeo De Ferrari||Pipelet, ossia Il portinajo di Parigi||Nizza|
|De Ferrari||Serafino De-Ferrari||Il birraio di Preston||Orvieto|
|De Giosa||Nicola de Giosa||Don Checco||Lanciano|
|Donizetti||Gaetano Donizetti||Don Pasquale||Dr Malatesta||London|
|Donizetti||Gaetano Donizetti||L'elisir d'amore||Belcore||Rome|
|Donizetti||Gaetano Donizetti||La favorita||Alfonso||Rome|
|Donizetti||Gaetano Donizetti||Gemma di Vergy||Earl of Vergy||Rome|
|Donizetti||Gaetano Donizetti||Linda di Chamounix||Antonio||Genova|
|Donizetti||Gaetano Donizetti||Lucia di Lammermoor||Enrico||Rome|
|Donizetti||Gaetano Donizetti||Lucrezia Borgia||London|
|Donizetti||Gaetano Donizetti||Maria di Rohan||Enrico, duca di Chevreuse||Spoleto|
|Donizetti||Gaetano Donizetti||I martiri||Severo||Barcelona|
|Donizetti||Gaetano Donizetti||Alina, regina di Golconda||Volmar||Bilbao|
|Donizetti||Gaetano Donizetti||Roberto Devereux||The Duke of Nottingham||Nice|
|Donizetti||Gaetano Donizetti||Torquato Tasso||Torquato Tasso||Modena|
|Faccio||Franco Faccio||I profughi fiamminghi||Il conte di Bergh||Milano|
|Fioravanti||Vincenzo Fioravanti||Il ritorno di Columella||Torino|
|Flotow||Friedrich von Flotow||Alma l'incantatrice||Don Sebastian||London|
|Flotow||Friedrich von Flotow||Marta||Plunkett||Madrid|
|Gammieri||Erennio Gammieri||Niccolò de' Lapi||Saint Petersburg|
|Gomes||Antônio Carlos Gomes||Il Guarany||Gonzales||London|
|Gounod||Charles Gounod||Philémon et Baucis||Jupiter||Saint Petersburg|
|Gounod||Charles Gounod||Roméo et Juliette||Mercutio and Capulet||London|
|Gounod||Charles Gounod||Cinq-Mars||Saint Petersburg|
|Hérold||Ferdinand Hérold||Le pré aux clercs||Comte de Comminges||London|
|Kashperov||Vladimir Kashperov||Maria Tudor||Nice|
|Leoncavallo||Ruggero Leoncavallo||I pagliacci||Tonio||Saint Petersburg|
|Lucilla||Domenico Lucilla||Il conte Rosso||Bologna|
|Lucilla||Domenico Lucilla||Eroe delle Asturie||Bologna|
|Manna||Ruggero Manna||Preziosa||Don Fernando d'Azevedo||Milan|
|Marchetti||Filippo Marchetti||Romeo e Giulietta||Genoa|
|Marchetti||Filippo Marchetti||Ruy Blas||Don Sallustio||Venice|
|Mascagni||Pietro Mascagni||Cavalleria Rusticana||Alfio||Saint Petersburg|
|Massenet||Jules Massenet||Le Cid||Don Fernando, King of Castille||Saint Petersburg|
|Mendelssohn||Felix Mendelssohn||St. Paul||bass||Rome|
|Mercadante||Francesco Mercadante||Il giuramento||Manfredo||Cuneo|
|Mercadante||Francesco Mercadante||I normanni a Parigi||Ordamante||Modena|
|Mercadante||Francesco Mercadante||Orazi e Curiazi||Orazio||Perugia|
|Mercadante||Francesco Mercadante||La vestale||Publio||Nice|
|Meyerbeer||Giacomo Meyerbeer||La stella del nord||Peter the Great||London|
|Meyerbeer||Giacomo Meyerbeer||Gli ugonotti||Nevers||London|
|Mozart||Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart||Così fan tutte||Guglielmo||London|
|Mozart||Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart||Don Giovanni||Don Giovanni||London|
|Mozart||Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart||Il flauto magico||Papageno||London|
|Mozart||Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart||Le nozze di Figaro||Count & Figaro||London|
|Paladilhe||Émile Paladilhe||Patria||Comte de Rysoor||Rome|
|Pedrotti||Carlo Pedrotti||Il favorito||Turin|
|Pedrotti||Carlo Pedrotti||Guerra in quattro||Milan|
|Pedrotti||Carlo Pedrotti||Isabella d'Aragona||Milan|
|Pedrotti||Carlo Pedrotti||Tutti in maschera||Trieste|
|Peri||Achille Peri||Vittor Pisani||Vittor Pisani||Milan|
|Persichini||Venceslao Persichini||Amante Sessagenario||Rome|
|Petrella||Enrico Petrella||L'assedio di Leida||Armando Boasot||Turin|
|Petrella||Enrico Petrella||Giovanna di Napoli||Marino||Turin|
|Petrella||Enrico Petrella||Marco Visconti||Marco Visconti||Barcelona|
|Ponchielli||Amilcare Ponchielli||La gioconda||Barnaba||St. Petersburg|
|Ponchielli||Amilcare Ponchielli||I lituani||Arnoldo||St. Petersburg|
|Poniatowski||Józef Michał Poniatowski||Gelmina||London|
|Puccinelli||Filippo Puccinelli||Santa Cecilia||Rome|
|Puccini||Giacomo Puccini||Manon Lescaut||Lescaut||St. Petersburg|
|Ricci||Luigi Ricci||Chiara di Rosemberg||Nice|
|Ricci||Luigi Ricci||Chi dura la vince||Nice|
|Ricci||Luigi Ricci||Crispino e la Comare||Fabrizio||Venice|
|Ricci||Luigi Ricci||Le Prigioni di Edimburgo||Nice|
|Rossi||Lauro Rossi||Domino Nero||Turin|
|Rossi||Lauro Rossi||Falsi Monetari||Turin|
|Rossini||Gioacchino Rossini||Il barbiere di Siviglia||Figaro||Genova|
|Rossini||Gioacchino Rossini||La Cenerentola||Dandini||Nice|
|Rossini||Gioacchino Rossini||La gazza ladra||Fernando Villabella||London|
|Rossini||Gioacchino Rossini||Guglielmo Tell||Guglielmo||St. Petersburg|
|Rossini||Gioacchino Rossini||Matilde di Shabran||Aliprando||Turin|
|Rubinstein||Antonio Rubinstein||Nerone||Julius Vindex||St. Petersburg|
|Sanelli||Gualtiero Sanelli||Luisa Strozzi||Turin|
|Sinico||Giuseppe Sinico||Aurora di Nevers||Milan|
|Verdi||Giuseppe Verdi||Aïda||Amonasro||St. Petersburg|
|Verdi||Giuseppe Verdi||Un ballo in maschera||Renato||Dublin|
|Verdi||Giuseppe Verdi||Don Carlos||Posa||London|
|Verdi||Giuseppe Verdi||I due Foscari||Francesco Foscari||London|
|Verdi||Giuseppe Verdi||Ernani||Don Carlo||Rome|
|Verdi||Giuseppe Verdi||La forza del destino||Don Carlo di Vargas||Spoleto|
|Verdi||Giuseppe Verdi||I lombardi||Milan|
|Verdi||Giuseppe Verdi||Luisa Miller||Miller||Turin|
|Verdi||Giuseppe Verdi||I masnadieri||Francesco||Viterbo|
|Verdi||Giuseppe Verdi||Stiffelio||Count Stankar||London|
|Verdi||Giuseppe Verdi||La traviata||Germont||Viterbo|
|Verdi||Giuseppe Verdi||Il trovatore||Di Luna||Madrid|
|Verdi||Giuseppe Verdi||I vespri siciliani||Michele de Vasconcello/Guido di Monforte||Turin|
|Weber||Carl Maria von Weber||Oberon||Scherasmin||Bologna|
Cotogni also sang the baritone solo in the "Dies irae" section of Alessandro Busi's Messa da requiem performed in honor of Gioachino Rossini's death on December 9, 1868 at the church of San Giovanni in Monte in Bologna. His delivery of the solo was sublime: "...the audience, who literally filled the church, was so shaken that, forgetting they were in church, applauded [his solo] wildly."
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (October 2009)|
- Eaglefield-Hull 1924.
- Eaglefield-Hull 1924, places the estimate at 157.
- Eaglefield Hull 1924.
- M. Scott, The Record of Singing (London, Duckworth 1977), p. 105.
- Nino Angelucci, Ricordi di una artista, Antonio Cotogni (Roma, 1907). ISBN 978-1148413716
- Roland Mancini and Jean-Jacques Rouveroux, (orig. H. Rosenthal and J. Warrack, French edition), Guide de l'opéra, Les indispensables de la musique (Fayard, 1995). ISBN 2-213-59567-4
- Arthur Eaglefield Hull (Ed.), A Dictionary of Modern Music and Musicians (Dent, London and Toronto 1924).