V2539. RENATA SCOTTO, w.John Wustman (Pf.): Songs by Carissimi, Cimarosa, Bellini, Rossini, Verdi & Tosti; Arias from La Vestale, Don Giovanni, Nozze, I Vespri Siciliani & I Lombardi - Live Performance, 1 Nov., 1970, Hunter College Playhouse, New York. [Recorded in the front row, independent of extraneous audience noise, this recording captures the spontaneity of the recital with no more than the occasional applause at appropriate moments!] (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-665. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"Was Renata Scotto the last of the great divas in Italian opera? We have had some marvelous singers since she ended her career in 2002, but there has been no one like her. In a line that included, in my lifetime, Callas, Milanov, Tebaldi, Price, Caballe, and a few others I'm sure I'm forgetting (all different from each other, obviously), Scotto was the last whom one would put on that prima donna assoluta list. She sang always with a purpose, meaning, and a musical and vocal presence (along with her physical presence onstage) that captivated you.
Scotto's voice was not the plush instrument to match a Tebaldi or Caballe, nor was it the big, heavy dramatic soprano of a Milanov. The most similar artist I can think of would be the Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer, who made almost no commercial recordings but whose work is preserved on legions of underground recordings. But despite the parallels, there are more differences than similarities between the two singers. While Gencer was a powerful singing actress, and could float glorious pianissimi, she was not an artist of great subtlety. Scotto would throw herself into the big moments of a role with complete abandon, but she would also think through every word and note of the part, figuring out how to clarify its meaning and making certain every element was heard in the context of its place in the whole work.
Such an artist is likely to be successful in song recitals, too, and Scotto was (in the later years of her career she even sang concert works like Berlioz's LES NUITS D'ETE). St. Laurent Studio (available through Norbeck, Peters & Ford - www.norpete.com), which has been making sensationally good transfers of a lot of live material, has here preserved a fabulous recital from 1970 at New York's Hunter College. John Wustman was her regular accompanist, and he was one of the finest collaborative pianists of his generation.
Not everything is a complete success here, but the overwhelming majority is either beautiful, powerful, or both. I know singers, particularly in that generation, who thought it was required to start a recital with â€˜oldâ€™ music, and so we have the obligatory Carissimi and Cimarosa numbers. I don't find Scotto convincing in the Cimarosa, and the voice is a bit shrill in the Carissimi.
But from that point on, there is success after success. One wouldn't associate Scotto with Mozart, but in fact her 'Mi tradi' is more evenly sung and dramatically convincing than what I've heard from most of the Elviras I have encountered in live performances and recordings of DON GIOVANNI. 'Dove sono' is not only sung exquisitely, but through dynamic shading and tiny tugs at the rhythm Scotto also makes clear the Countess' emotional predicament as a neglected but still loving wife. As the aria swings between reflections of past happiness and memories of past hurts, building a mood of uncertainty about the future, Scotto conveys all of these nuances directly to the listener. She has obviously thought the music through very carefully, but what comes across is not studied or artificial in any way.
There is much else to treasure. Throughout you encounter moments that thrill with their hushed beauty and others of overpowering dramatic thrust. You hear ringing and secure high notes that are not usually found in the arsenal of a singer known for the fragility of her Butterfly.
The final encore of the evening, an exquisite rendering of Tosti's 'A vucchella', is the perfect ending to a memorable recital. St. Laurent Studio does not publish texts, but collectors will have most of this material or be able to find it online. I wish the label would offer the option to buy a booklet with texts, perhaps digitally, but to any listener who loves and knows great singing, this lack should not hold you back. As I am writing, Renata Scotto is about to celebrate her 84th birthday. All I can do is wish her many happy returns and thank her for the joy and pleasures she has given so many over the years."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"As Hunter College is only a few blocks away from the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan, Renata Scotto had no great physical distance to traverse in order to present this recital after a run of appearances in LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. By contrast, the repertoire presented here covers a time span of some 250 years and corresponding styles ranging from the early Baroque through the Classical, bel canto, and the Romantic eras, although the emphasis throughout is weighted toward coloratura repertoire. Scotto is in prime form here, clearly inspired by an enthusiastic audience. While one could quibble about a few passing details - a couple of extreme high notes are a bit strident or not squarely in tune; her two Mozart arias are just a tad unstylish, savoring more of Verdi instead; the rapturous joy of the betrothed Elena in I VESPRI SICILIANI is a shade too decorous and subdued - it would be churlish to do so. Her interpretations are magnetic; the thoughtful use of dynamic shadings for expressive effects, including frequent forays into piano and pianissimo, are particularly striking and impressive. Her initial forays into Carissimi and Cimarosa are eminently tasteful and well sculpted, and she then finds in turn the regal dignity and fiery passion needed for Julia in LA VESTALE, the artfully artless simplicity and playfulness inherent in the Bellini and Rossini songs as well as 'Stornella' and 'A vucchella', and the rapt intensity required for Giselda's prayer in I LOMBARDI. Pianist John Wustman, a regular Scotto recital partner, is an excellent accompanist throughout. The monaural recorded sound has audible tape hiss but otherwise is clear and natural sounding. As usual, St. Laurent provides no texts or notes, though the back cover of the front tray card reproduces a yellowed clipping of the enthusiastic NEW YORK TIMES review of the concert. In sum, this is an enjoyable treat for fans of Scotto in particular and of great singing in a well-integrated recital program for vocal enthusiasts in general; cordially recommended. This release can be obtained from Norbeck, Peters & Ford (Norpete.com)."
- James A. Altena, FANFARE
"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
“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