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.
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.
Cotogni retired from the operatic stage in February 1898, having sung an estimated 127 (some sources say 157) roles. They 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:
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 Mulatieri'", 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."
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 comes ou 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
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.
|Ambroise Thomas||Luchino Visconti||unknown||Lugo|
|Daniel Auber||Diamanti della corona||Rebolledo||London|
|Daniel Auber||Diamanti della corona||Rebolledo||London|
|Daniel Auber||Le domino noir||Gil Perez||London|
|Ludwig van Beethoven||Fidelio||Don Pizarro||London|
|Vincenzo Bellini||Beatrice di Tenda||Filippo||Venice|
|Vincenzo Bellini||I Capuleti e i Montecchi||unknown||Genova|
|Vincenzo Bellini||I puritani||Riccardo||Milan|
|Vincenzo Bellini||La sonnambula||Rodolfo||London|
|Tommaso Bevenuti||La stella di Toledo||unknown||Genova|
|Hector Berlioz||La damnation de Faust||Méphistophélès||Rome|
|Giovanni Bottesini||L'assedio di Firenze||Giovanni Bandino||Milan|
|Antonio Cagnoni||Don Bucefalo||unknown||Trieste|
|Antonio Cagnoni||Il vecchio della montagna||unknown||Milan|
|Ambrogio Centolani||Isabella Orsini||unknown||Lugo|
|Domenico Cimarosa||Le astuzie femminili||Dottor Romualdo||London|
|Domenico Cimarosa||Il matrimonio segreto||Count Robinson||Madrid|
|Serafino De-Ferrari||Il birraio di Preston||unknown||Orvieto|
|Serafino Amedeo De Ferrari||Pipelet, ossia Il portinajo di Parigi||unknown||Nizza|
|Nicola de Giosa||Don Checco||unknown||Lanciano|
|Gaetano Donizetti||Don Pasquale||Dr Malatesta||London|
|Gaetano Donizetti||L'elisir d'amore||Belcore||Rome|
|Gaetano Donizetti||La favorita||Alfonso||Rome|
|Gaetano Donizetti||Gemma di Vergy||Earl of Vergy||Rome|
|Gaetano Donizetti||Linda di Chamounix||Antonio||Genova|
|Gaetano Donizetti||Lucia di Lammermoor||Enrico||Rome|
|Gaetano Donizetti||Lucrezia Borgia||unknown||London|
|Gaetano Donizetti||Maria di Rohan||Enrico, duca di Chevreuse||Spoleto|
|Gaetano Donizetti||Poliuto / I martiri||Severo||Barcelona|
|Gaetano Donizetti||Alina, regina di Golconda||Volmar||Bilbao|
|Gaetano Donizetti||Roberto Devereux||The Duke of Nottingham||Nizza|
|Gaetano Donizetti||Torquato Tasso||Torquato Tasso||Modena|
|Franco Faccio||I profughi fiamminghi||Il conte di Bergh||Milano|
|Vincenzo Fioravanti||Il ritorno di Columella||unknown||Torino|
|Friedrich von Flotow||Alma l'incantatrice||Don Sebastian||London|
|Friedrich von Flotow||Marta||Plunkett||Madrid|
|Gammieri Erennio||Niccolò de' Lapi||unknown||Saint Petersburg|
|Antônio Carlos Gomes||Il Guarany||Gonzales||London|
|Charles Gounod||Philémon et Baucis||Jupiter||Saint Petersburg|
|Charles Gounod||Roméo et Juliette||Mercutio and Capulet||London|
|Charles Gounod||Cinq-Mars||unknown||Saint Petersburg|
|Ferdinand Hérold||Le pré aux clercs||Comte de Comminges||London|
|Vladimir Kashperov||Maria Tudor||Nizza|
|Ruggero Leoncavallo||I pagliacci||Tonio||Saint Petersburg|
|Domenico Lucilla||Il conte Rosso||unknown||Bologna|
|Domenico Lucilla||Eroe delle Asturie||unknown||Bologna|
|Giacomo Meyerbeer||La stella del nord||Peter the Great||London|
|Giacomo Meyerbeer||Gli ugonotti||Nevers||London|
|Ruggero Manna||Preziosa||Don Fernando d'Azevedo||Milan|
|Filippo Marchetti||Romeo e Giulietta||unknown||Genoa|
|Filippo Marchetti||Ruy Blas||Don Sallustio||Venice|
||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).