OP1333. LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, Live Performance, 3 Sept., 1967, Tokyo, w.Bartoletti Cond. NHK Ensemble; Renata Scotto, Carlo Bergonzi, Mario Zanasi, etc. (Slovenia) 2-Myto 065.337. Long out-of-print, final copy! - 608974503376
"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'.
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 introduced 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 BOHEME), 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 FRANCESCA DA RIMINI and Maddalena in ANDREA CHENIER. 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."
- Anne Feeney, allmusic.com
"Renata Scotto is a musician. She is a studious woman who is devoted to her career. I have seen her at work and her dedication to opera is complete, profound, and remarkable. She will finish singing only to return to the score and study again. She has given herself to opera, body and soul; and she never stops learning. That is why her characterizations are always so fresh."
- Placido Domingo, SCOTTO, MORE THAN A DIVA, p.xii
"Considered the foremost Verdi tenor of his age, Mr. Bergonzi sang more than 300 times with the Metropolitan Opera of New York from the 1950s to the '80s, appearing opposite a roster of celebrated divas that included Maria Callas, Zinka Milanov, Renata Tebaldi, Rise Stevens, Victoria de los Angeles and Leontyne Price.
A lyric tenor of some vocal heft, Mr. Bergonzi lacked the sonic weight and brilliance of tenors in the Wagnerian mold. But what he did possess was an instrument of velvety beauty and nearly unrivaled subtlety.
'More than the sound of the voice, it is Mr. Bergonzi's way of using it that is so special', Peter G. Davis, reviewing a 1978 Carnegie Hall recital by Mr. Bergonzi, wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES. 'He is a natural singer in that everything he does seems right and inevitable - the artful phrasing, the coloristic variety, the perfectly positioned accents, the theatrical sense of well-proportioned climaxes, the honest emotional fervor. Best of all, Mr. Bergonzi obviously uses these effects artistically because he feels them rather than intellectualizes them - a rare instinctual gift, possibly the most precious one any musician can possess'. In the view of his many fans, this vocal elegance amply compensated for the fact that Mr. Bergonzi was no actor and, by his own ready admission, no matinee idol. 'I know I don't look like Rudolph Valentino', he told THE TIMES in 1981. 'I know what a proper physique should be for the parts I sing, but I have tried to learn to act through the voice. The proper, pure expression of the line is the most important thing'.
Mr. Bergonzi began his career as a baritone, and after becoming a tenor a few years later was careful not to push his voice past its natural confines. As a result, he largely escaped the vocal wear that can force singers to retire by the time they reach their early 50s; Mr. Bergonzi, by contrast, continued to sing on prominent stages - and, as critical opinion had it, sing well - into his late 60s.
During World War II, Mr. Bergonzi spent three years in a German concentration camp for his anti-Nazi activities. He returned home after the war, weighing 80 pounds, and resumed singing.
Mr. Bergonzi made his operatic debut in 1948 as a baritone, singing the title part in Rossini's BARBER OF SEVILLE in Lecce, in southern Italy. After coming to realize that tenor parts were better situated for his voice, he made a second debut, as a tenor, in the title role in Umberto Giordano's ANDREA CHENIER in Bari in 1951.
In 1955, Mr. Bergonzi made his United States debut with the Lyric Theater of Chicago (now the Lyric Opera of Chicago) as Luigi in Puccini's IL TABARRO. The next year, on 13 November, he made his Met debut as Radames opposite Antonietta Stella, also making her debut that night.
Mr. Bergonzi also appeared at La Scala, 1953, and at Covent Garden, where he made his debut in 1962 as Don Alvaro in Verdi's FORZA DEL DESTINO. At the Met, in March 1964, Mr. Bergonzi was a soloist (with Ms. Price, Rosalind Elias and Cesare Siepi) in an acclaimed performance of the Verdi REQUIEM in memory of President John F. Kennedy, under the baton of Georg Solti.
In 1994, Mr. Bergonzi, then 70, took the stage at Carnegie Hall for what was billed as his American farewell recital. The concert, a program of Italian art songs and arias, concluded with a 50-minute ovation and was warmly reviewed by critics. But as it transpired, that concert was no farewell. In 2000, two months shy of his 76th birthday, Mr. Bergonzi sang the one Verdi role he had never attempted: the title part in OTELLO, one of the most fiendishly demanding tenor roles in opera, in a concert performance with the Opera Orchestra of New York under Eve Queler. His performance - a high-wattage Carnegie Hall affair whose audience included Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, José Carreras, Sherrill Milnes, Licia Albanese and Anna Moffo - was, by wide critical consensus, an unreconstructed disaster. 'It was immediately apparent that there was something wrong', THE GUARDIAN wrote shortly afterward. 'A grainy tone in the voice inhibited everything. Bergonzi strained audibly in an unsuccessful attempt to reach the high A that caps the triumphant entry phrase'. Mr. Bergonzi withdrew from the performance after two acts, leaving his role in Acts III and IV to be sung by an understudy, Antonio Barasorda.
But the younger, supple-voiced Mr. Bergonzi endures on his many recordings, including several of AIDA (opposite Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo and Montserrat Caballé; a BOHEME and a BUTTERFLY opposite Renata Tebaldi; Donizetti's LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR with Beverly Sills; and a three-record set for Philips on which he sings all of the Verdi tenor arias."
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 July, 2014