V2576. RENATA SCOTTO, w.John Wustman (Pf.): Songs by Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini & Verdi; Gianni Schicchi - O mio babbino caro - Live Performance, 12 Oct., 1969, Carnegie Hall. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-682. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“These two recitals [the above, plus V2577] give us an opportunity to hear one of the great Italian operatic sopranos of the second half of the 20th century in a largely unfamiliar corner of the repertoire. While there are a few opera arias on both programs, most of the selections are art songs by famous Italian opera composers. Even when an aria does appear, the Spontini, Meyerbeer, and Mercadante numbers don’t turn up every day.
Renata Scotto was one of the most intelligent, probing singers of her period. Even with a voice that lacked the plush beauty of a Tebaldi, the gleaming brilliance of a Price, and the huge range of colors available to Callas, Scotto carved her own niche by infusing everything she sang with strong personality and a deep sense of commitment to the text and its meaning. She was an artist who always delved deeply into whatever she sang. Vocally she could float lovely pianissimi and also let loose with explosive power.
Scotto sang throwing caution to the winds, and there are a few moments in both recitals where she might have wished to hold back (a few high notes in Bellini’s scene from LA STRANIERA in the 1969 recital, for example). But overall, what we have here is a valuable sampling of singing with a real face, singing that never seems on autopilot. The British vocal authority John Steane, in THE GRAND TRADITION, says this about Scotto: ‘She is a strong interpreter. Whether it is youthful charm (‘O mio babbino caro’), minxish determination (‘Una voce poco fa’), tenderness, devotion, vision (‘Un bel dì’) or tragic tension (‘L’altra notte’), she creates a mood and sustains it’.
There are some florid passages in which Scotto sounds a bit labored, but one does not turn to her for pretty arabesques or vocal acrobatics. What one expects, and gets, is an artist who treats singing as if it were pitched oration. This is achieved by clear, crisp diction and an imaginative use of inflection and emphasis, which never becomes fussy or artificial. Scotto’s art was always about total communication.
It is unfortunate that St. Laurent Studio doesn’t include texts and translations, but without too much work you can find the words for most of the contents of both recitals. It is important to note that Scotto sings the French pieces in French, not common practice among Italian singers then. The two songs from Berlioz’s LES NUITS D’ÉTÉ in the Philharmonic Hall recital are a lovely discovery from her, sung with affection and that same natural shaping that Scotto brings to the Italian repertoire.
The recorded sound is more satisfying on the 1972 Philharmonic Hall disc; it is rather distant and overly reverberant on the Carnegie Hall recital. In fact, perhaps because of recording quality, I find the voice lovelier on the later recital. It sounds as if both recordings were made from the audience (which makes the applause louder than anything from the stage). St. Laurent Studio has transferred the material well, keeping ovations to a minimum. Both of these releases are valuable additions to any vocal collection, and they certainly add to our knowledge of this great artist. The two pianists are sensitive accompanists without being revelatory. St. Laurent Studio recordings are available at Norbeck, Peters & Ford (www.norpete.com).”
- Henry Fogel, 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