V0321. RENATA SCOTTO & MIRELLA FRENI, w.Magiera & Anselmi Cond. National Phil.: Duets by Mercadante, Bellini & Mozart. (England) Decca 475 8811, recorded 1978, Walthamstow Assembly Hall. Gatefold Jacket has Brochure. Final Sealed Copy! - 028947568117
“Better voices sing these parts with more body and security, but they are dull; they could easily feed their voices onto computer tape and let technology sing for them. Parceling out the notes as each score reads, for only Scotto takes the trouble to distinguish….Scotto is the last of the mad-genius sopranos….When she goes, opera is [will be, and is] in a lot of trouble. Above all, she is mistress of the traditions, with a grasp on authenticity.”
- Ethan Mordden, DEMENTED, THE WORLD OF THE OPERA DIVA, p.99
“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
"In the same vein as Magda Olivero and Claudia Muzio, [Scotto’s] singing is a paragon of class, communication, and emotional authenticity."
- Raymond Tuttle, FANFARE, May/June, 2006
“Mirella Freni, an exemplary Italian prima donna for nearly 50 years, whose voice was ideally suited to lighter lyric roles but maintained its bloom even as she took on weightier, more dramatic repertory in midcareer, was hailed as a last exponent of the great Italian operatic heritage. ‘That tradition is ending’, Plácido Domingo was quoted as saying in a 1997 NEW YORK TIMES article about Ms. Freni. ‘Mirella is the end of a chain. After that you cannot see who really follows her’. Many opera lovers acknowledged Ms. Freni’s special claim on this tradition, which valued bel canto principles of producing rich, unforced sound; of shaping even, lyrical lines across the range of a voice; and of sensitively matching sound to words.
With her beguiling stage presence, quiet charisma and the affecting vulnerability she could summon in her singing, Ms. Freni made Mimì in Puccini’s LA BOHÈME a signature part. She won international acclaim in the role in a landmark 1963 production at La Scala in Milan, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and conducted by Herbert von Karajan, who became one of her major champions. Though vocal beauty and proper technique were central to the Italian tradition, Ms. Freni placed a premium on expressivity and feeling. Commenting on the state of opera in a 1997 interview with The Times, she said there were many young artists who sing well and move well. ‘But that is all’, she added. ‘Finito! I want something deeper. It is important to have emotion, to live through the music onstage’, she continued. ‘Also, the Italian singers have a special feeling for the language. Even when we speak it is musical’. Yet she steadily expanded her repertory and, as the colorings of her voice grew darker with maturity, sang more dramatically intense and vocally heavy roles, like Desdemona in Verdi’s OTELLO, Verdi’s Aida and Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. She was particularly urged on this course by Karajan, who brought her to the Salzburg Festival to sing Desdemona and the demanding role of Elisabetta in Verdi’s DON CARLO.
With the support of her second husband, the Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov, she ventured into Russian repertory, singing Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s EUGENE ONEGIN and Lisa in Tchaikovsky’s PIQUE DAME. Yet Ms. Freni never lost the warmth and richness of her lyric soprano origins. Reviewing her performance in MANON LESCAUT at the Met in 1990, THE TIMES’ Donal Henahan marveled at her longevity and excellence. ‘The wonder of Mirella Freni at this stage of her career’, he wrote, ‘is that she continues to sing Puccini with seemingly reckless ardor while preserving a surprisingly fresh and beautiful sound’. Still, Ms. Freni considered herself a judicious soprano. She could say no, even to the imposing Karajan, if she though a particular role was not right for her. She recorded Puccini’s Madama Butterfly twice, including a film version conducted by Karajan, but never performed the role complete in a staged production in an opera house.
‘I am generous in many ways, but not when I think it will destroy my voice’, she said in a 2013 OPERA NEWS interview. ‘Some singers think they are gods who can do everything’, she added. ‘But I have always been honest with myself and my possibilities’.
She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1965 as Mimì and returned regularly to sing, among various roles, Adina in Donizetti’s L’ELISIR D’AMORE, Liù in Puccini’s TURANDOT and a new 1967 production of Gounod’s ROMÉO ET JULIETTE opposite the star tenor Franco Corelli (with whom she recorded the opera splendidly the next year). But she had been absent from the Met for more than 14 years when she returned in 1983 as Elisabetta in DON CARLO, with James Levine conducting and Mr. Ghiaurov as Philip II. In 1996 the Met mounted a production of a rarity, Giordano’s FEDORA, for Ms. Freni and Mr. Domingo, garnering rave reviews for both. She sang more than 140 performances with the company in all.
Asked whether she thought of herself as the ‘last prima donna’, as she was sometimes called, Ms. Freni demurred. ‘You tell me why I am the last of a tradition’, she said. ‘I have done my job honestly. I have worked hard and with joy’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 Feb., 2020