Renata Scotto’s long and successful operatic career was marked by a rare combination of dramatic intensity and vocal flexibility, which allowed her to traverse a wide variety of styles. She believed strongly in the theatrical elements of performing and always focused her energies on the meaning of a text. She also felt much of the standard verismo performing tradition to be exaggerated and vulgar, and strove to keep her performances as close to the composer’s marked intentions as possible, especially with respect to subtleties of dynamics. Many speak of her as “the last of the divas.”
Opera, Blood, and Tears
The Life You Give: Renata Scotto
in celebration of her life in music
February 24 at 1pm EST
She began vocal studies when she was 14, and moved to Milan when she was 16. In 1952, when she was just 19, she made her debut as Violetta (La traviata) at the Teatro Nuovo, followed by her La Scala debut as Walter in La Wally. However, only a few years later she had a vocal crisis, losing most of her upper range; she now credits her recovery to Alfredo Kraus (himself renowned for a solid technique and vocal longevity), who introducing her to his teacher, Mercedes Llopart. After completely restudying her technique, she re-began her career as a coloratura, making her London debut at the Stoll Theater as Adina in L’elisir d’amore. She returned to La Scala, and in 1957, replaced Maria Callas (whom she had greatly admired) as Amina in La Sonnambula.
In 1960, she debuted at the Chicago Opera as Mimi (La bohème), followed by her Covent Garden debut in 1962 as Puccini’s Cio-Cio san (Madama Butterfly). Her Metropolitan Opera debut was in 1965 was also as Butterfly; during the next two decades, Scotto was one of their major stars, appearing in several telecasts.
She began to add the heavier roles to her repertoire again, including Verdi’s Lady Macbeth, which was to become a signature role, as well as verismo parts such as Fedora, La Gioconda, Francesca in Zandonai’s Paolo and Maddalena in Andrea Chénier. In all of these roles she was applauded for her committed acting and stylistic fluency. While no recording can fully recreate the impressions of a stage performance, her first recording of Madama Butterfly, under John Barbirolli, is one of her most vivid.
By Anne Feeney / Source: all music