Mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená became a popular and critically celebrated figure in Europe before the age of 30. She was touted as the chief competitor to Cecilia Bartoli (although there is no evidence of personal rivalry between the two). Her area of primary expertise is 18th century music, particularly Bach, but she has also had success in more Romantic opera and song repertory. Kožená's voice has been variously described as "sweet" and "fiery and melting," depending on her repertory; more constant are her vocal agility and sense of drama, which have brought her high regard.
Kožená was born on May 26, 1973, in Brno, in the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia). She initially studied at the Brno Conservatory, then with Eva Blahová at the College of Performing Arts in Bratislava. Even before her graduation in 1995, she was winning major prizes in the Czech Republic and internationally, the most significant being top honors at the sixth International Mozart Competition in Salzburg in 1995. She spent the 1996-1997 season as a member of the Vienna Volksoper. In 1998, Kožená made her debut at the Drottningholm Festival as Paride in Gluck's Paride ed Elena. In 2000, she debuted at the Châtelet in Paris as Gluck's Orpheus, and at the Vienna Festival as Nero in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea. She appeared as Cherubino in the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2001. Kožená is also an active recitalist throughout Europe, although she is less known in the United States, despite performances in San Francisco and at Carnegie Hall. Participation in Metropolitan Opera productions of Mozart and Janácek boosted her American reputation.
Early in her career, Kožená signed a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon, which resulted in annual releases beginning in 1997. She has also recorded with the PentaTone Classics, Linn, and Archiv labels, among others. She has been featured mainly in Baroque and Classical music, although she has also ventured into the Romantic era and 20th century Czech songs. As a recitalist, she has performed and recorded Britten, which has endeared her to the nationalistic British press. In 2009, Kožená's recording of Julietta fragments by Martinu won a Gramophone Award. She toured with the ensemble Private Musicke in a program based on her album Lettere Amorose in 2010. In 2019, she released several albums, including Il Giardino dei sospiri and Soirée: Magdalena Kožená & Friends, both on PentaTone Classics.
Even greater honor came to Kožená in 2003; the success of her recording of Romantic French opera arias, not to mention her presence in the 2002 centenary production of Pelléas et Mélisande at the Opéra Comique, had much to do with her being awarded the title of Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. In 2004, she was named the Gramophone Awards "Artist of the Year."