(Renata Scotto. Photo: Metropolitan Opera Guild)
for it is you who make things glitter, you
-- Robert Kelly, "Montblanc"
Opera has its Queen Bee. The Italian soprano and living legend Renata Scotto (~living legend, you can look, but don't touch~) has done it all. She's been Norma and Violetta and Mimi -- among the best in the modern era. She rediscovered La Voix Humaine back when it wasn't fashionable and also sang Schoenberg's Erwartung. In the span of an enormous career, she’s as intimate with the stage as with the backstage: La Scotto’s made the graceful transition from singer to director to teacher – a versatility that’s made her modern. Her vocal skills spanned from the lightest bel canto to the densest verismo. With ninja-sharp musicianship (and acting skillz) and a deep understanding of each composer, her style was intelligent, authoritative, and passionate.
Born in Savona, Italy (about a two-hour drive south of Milan) in 1934, we toast to the Italian diva (with ice-cold Bollinger in Régine flutes from Vetrerie di Empoli) who was born 77 years ago today. Now La Scotto lives part time in Armonk (since 1978), a Westchester County city that’s one hour north of NYC. She's been with her husband Lorenzo Anselmi, who was first violinist at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala (Scotto was already studying opera in Milan at age 14, and had her La Scala premiere at 19), for more than 50 years and they have two children. Daughter Laura lives close by, and son Filippo is a manager at the NYC-based Piper Anselmi Artists Management company (he represents our Rhapsody in Blue Slayer Maestro Francesco Maria Colombo as well as his Mom’s stage director work -- really, what could be more Italian than that?)
Opera Chic caught up with the La Scotto over the phone during another round of ~Snowpocalypse~ where the soprano was staying local for a special Metropolitan Opera Guild upcoming event. They’ve organized a party for her called “Met Legends: Renata Scotto” on Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College where she’ll chat about life and her legacy as a singer, a director and a teacher, accompanied by rare footage from past performances. Past Met Legends have been Marilyn Horne, Teresa Stratas and James Levine -- she's in good company.
But how can the soprano’s prolific Metropolitan Opera career fit into just one evening? Forty-five years ago from The Met's current season, she sang in 314 performances between 1965 and 1987 during a 25-year career and sang 26 roles (her Metropolitan Opera debut was as Cio-Cio San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly).
(Scotto at The Met's Lady Macbeth. Photo: Metropolitan Opera Guild)
She made her Italian debut in 1952 (at 18-years-old). Her make-it-or-break-it moment came in 1957 at the Edinburgh Festival filling in for Maria Callas in a brilliant Bellini's La Sonnambula – at age 22 with 3-days notice. Trip report: She made it -- didn't break it.
Her earliest roles were bel canto: Cio-Cio San (Madama Butterfly), Violetta (La Traviata), Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor), Amina (La sonnambula), Adina (L’elisir d’amore), Gilda (Rigoletto) and a bit heavier as Mimì (La boheme). It wasn't until her 1974 Metropolitan I Vespri Siciliani that she segued into meatier (and at times more obscure) territory: Meyerbeer’s Le prophète; Verdi’s Don Carlo, Otello, Luisa Miller and Macbeth; Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, Il Trittico and Tosca; Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini; Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito; and Bellini's Norma.
She's been staging opera for well over a decade and her productions have been seen at the Lyric Opera of Chicago (La Boheme and Un Ballo in Maschera) and the Florida Grand Opera (La Sonnambula and La Traviata). She's also staged productions in Helsinki (Norma), Bern (La Wally), Thessalonki (Lucia di Lammermoor), Dallas & Genova (Madama Butterfly), and a 1995 La Traviata for the New York City Opera that won her an Emmy Award.
Familiar with opera heroines like old friends, segueing into the role of mentor-teacher was inevitable. La Scotto understands that singing isn't just about the voice, and teaches students how to be complete performers: how to survive auditions, move on stage, how to dress, and how to choose the proper repertory. She's presented master classes at Juilliard, Curtis, Yale, and Met Opera's Lindemann Program (among others). In Italy, she's done master classes at La Scala and at Rome's Santa Cecila (the latter is still an active calling). In July 1997, she inaugurated the Renata Scotto Vocal Academy in Italy where each summer she teaches. Eight years ago she opened a new branch of her Academy at the Westchester Music Conservatory in New York.
When La Scotto talks about teaching, finding talent sustains her and the success of her students brings her satisfaction. La Scotto also spoke to Opera Chic all about Verdi’s versatility, modern staging, her love of America, and advice for new singers. Read the interview after the jump!