Episode 39. Pathos à la Cotrubas

Episode 39. Pathos à la Cotrubas



Ileana Cotrubas as Violetta in La Traviata.

Several weeks ago I began a series on particular vocal and artistic qualities that I find most important in a singer’s artistic profile. I had already done episodes on Charm and Glamour. Then the BLM protests intervened and I felt impelled to respond with two episodes examining Protest in Music. Today I resume my previous series with that all-important artistic trait Pathos. And who better exemplifies Pathos than the great Romanian soprano Ileana Cotrubas, who celebrated her 81st birthday this past week? Cotrubas was a deeply expressive and communicative artist who gained heights and plumbed depths that (in my estimation) no other artist of her generation was able to achieve. In this episode, I examine the earliest projects that brought her to international prominence, including the Glyndebourne production of Cavalli’s La Calisto, in which she sang the title role. I devote ample time to her traversals of Mozart operas, including her surprising (and surprisingly effective) assumption of Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Pausing briefly to acknowledge her work in the French repertoire and the bel canto soubrette parts, I then turn to her two greatest assumptions, Mimì in La bohème and Violetta in La Traviata. In relation to these I offer excerpts from live performances with Carlos Kleiber and Bruno Bartoletti. I conclude with a discussion of how her vocal flaws revealed her humanity in a way that an artist with a more perfect voice and technique might not have achieved, while never compromising musical values. The episode begins with a brief tribute to another singer of a different stripe who also exemplified Pathos: Judy Garland, who celebrated her 99th birthday this past week, and the 51st anniversary of whose death we commemorate next week.

Of course it is right for people to bring something new to a production but when somebody does it without really knowing the music and the text then it is very bad for everyone. I mean, all of us love what we do in our profession and if we have to work with someone with whom we have no rapport, when you see he doesn’t love music and doesn’t trust it, then you say he can be a good producer for the theater, not for the opera.” – Ileana Cotrubas, quoted in a New York Times article by George Movshon, 10 April 1977


Judy Garland onstage with her feathers, Copenhagen 25 March 1969

Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg: Over the Rainbow (The Wizard of Oz). Judy Garland [final live performance, Copenhagen, 25 March 1969]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Et incarnatus est (Mass in c minor). Ileana Cotrubas; Raymond Leppard, New Philharmonia Orchestra

Francesco Cavalli: Restino imbalsamate (La Calisto). Ileana Cotrubas, Isla Brodie; Raymond Leppard, London Philharmonic Orchestra

Johann Sebastian Bach: So hat Gott die Welt geliebt (Erhötes Fleisch und Blut, BWV 173). Ileana Cotrubas, Hermann Prey, Helmut Winschermann, Deutsche Bachsolisten

George Frideric Handel: Lascia ch’io piango (Rinaldo). Ileana Cotrubas; Jean-Claude Malgoire, La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: In uomini, in soldati (Così fan tutte). Ileana Cotrubas; Colin Davis, Orchestra of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden

Anna Tomowa-Sintow

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Cosa mi narri… Che soave zeffiretto (Le nozze di Figaro). Ileana Cotrubas, Anna Tomowa-Sintow; Herbert von Karajan, Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper [10 May 1977]

As Ilia in Idomeneo.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Se il padre perdei (Idomeneo). Ileana Cotrubas; James Levine, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra [live 6 November 1982]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Bei Männern (Die Zauberflöte). Ileana Cotrubas, Christian Boesch; James Levine, Wiener Philharmoniker [live Salzburg 26 August 1982]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Martern aller Arten (Die Entführung aus dem Serail). Ileana Cotrubas; Lorin Maazel, Wiener Philharmoniker [live Salzburg 08.1980)

George Enescu: Changeons propos; Du confict en douleur (Sept Chansons de Clément Marot, Op. 15). Ileana Cotrubas, Geoffrey Parsons [live London 12 December 1976]

Georges Bizet: Comme autrefois (Les Pêcheurs de Perles). Ileana Cotrubas; Georges Prêtre, Orchestra of the Paris Opera

Gaetano Donizetti: Chiedi all’aura lusinghiera (L’elisir d’amore). Ileana Cotrubas, Luigi Alva; John Pritchard, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden [live 08 January 1977]

Giacomo Puccini: Sono andati? (La bohème). Ileana Cotrubas, Luciano Pavarotti, Lucia Popp, Piero Cappuccilli, Yevgeny Nesterenko, Giorgio Giorgetti, Carlos Kleiber, Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano [live 22 March 1979]

P.S. I think Ileana Cotrubas uses her hands in the simplest yet most expressive way. Look at these screenshots of her Covent Garden Mimi.

With Alfredo Kraus

Giuseppe Verdi: È strano… Ah, fors’è lui… Sempre libera (La Traviata). Ileana Cotrubas, Alfredo Kraus; Bruno Bartoletti, Orchestra of the Lyric Opera of Chicago [live 11 December 1983]

Giuseppe Verdi: Parigi, o cara… Gran Dio, morir si giovane (La Traviata). Ileana Cotrubas, Giacomo Aragall; Carlos Kleiber, Orchester der Bayerischen Staatsoper [München, April 1975]

Giuseppe Verdi: Prendi, quest’è l’immagine (La Traviata). Ileana Cotrubas, Alfredo Kraus, Piero Cappuccilli, Arnold Voketaitis, Trudy Hines, Bruno Bartoletti, Orchestra of the Lyric Opera of Chicago [live 26 September 1975]

Johannes Brahms: Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (Ein deutsches Requiem). Ileana Cotrubas; Carlo Maria Giulini, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Edinburgh International Festival Chorus [Edinburgh 26 August 1978]

3 thoughts on “Episode 39. Pathos à la Cotrubas”

  1. Hello. I think Cotrubas’s last performance of Traviata was in Tokyo in 1990. I was there and threw 3 violet- colored roses (bioengineered) onto the stage at curtain call. She threw one to the orchestra and then crisscrossed the other 2 over her white gown, then held them parallel and diagonal. She was obviously touched by my poetic gesture, it is one of the happiest moments of my life.

  2. Hello and thanks for the wonderful retrospective of Cotrubas and her career. I think her last performance of Traviata was in Tokyo in 1990, At curtain call, I threw 3 ( bioengineered) violet colored roses onto the stage . She threw 1 to the orchestra and held the other 2 crisscrossed and then parallel on her bosom, posing for the wildly cheering audience. It was one of my happiest moments. The next year she returned for a recital. Afterwards I shook her hand while she was greeting fans from the stage. I told her I loved her. This seemed to stun her and she looked at me a long time with her hand over her heart.

    1. Dear Dana, Thank you so much for your messages. I share your enthusiasm for the great Ileana Cotrubas! I did a second (bonus) episode on her which is available to my Patreon subscribers for a minimal monthly contribution and which features live recordings of some of her late career assumptions, including Nedda in Pagliacci, Magda in La Rondine, and three of her final Verdi roles, Elisabetta, Amelia Boccanegra, and Desdemona. Feel free to check it out on the Countermelody Patreon page: http://www.patreon.com/countermelody I am very touched by your story of meeting her backstage! Best, Daniel

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