I discovered Renata Scotto this year, which makes it thirty years late. She was one of the petite, mousy Italian sopranos that memory tended to merge with Mirella “does nothing for me” Freni. How lazy one’s ways are sometimes! First, in an internet conversation on who was the definite Leonora of the Trovatore (why, La Stupenda, I insisted) somebody passed me this link:
After several hours of non-stop listening, I decide to move to another randomly selected Scotto clip, which happened to be Bellini and Vergin vezzosa:
I couldn’t leave it for days. Note how perfectly she brings to light the undercurrent of melancholy around 1:16 and the song, which began as a standard maiden-in-a-wedding-gown fare, turns into a much darker statement about human condition. (Yes, it does. Can’t you feel the chill creeping?)
Then I get her double CD of Verdi and Puccini from the library, and that was it. Permanently hooked. So the first installment of the DtO Reads Divas Memoirs So You Don’t Have To (Or You Can Fake You Had) belongs to La Scottina.
What you will find in Scotto: More Than a Diva, by Renata Scotto and Octavio Roca, foreword by Placido Domingo, Doubleday & Company, 1984:
The first five come under the heading ‘Colleagues. ‘Nuff Said’.
None of these people would have careers had I not cancelled every now and then to deliver children — “Many artists have their big chance by replacing other artists; it is a fantastic tale that happens often. […] Even Beverly Sills made her belated and spectacular debut at La Scala replacing me when I was having my first child; and the same thing happened to the young Katia Ricciarelli, who was launched on her international career thanks to my second child.” P. 49
There are good mezzos and bad mezzos — “Is a mezzo always a frustrated soprano? Only if she has what we can call a prima donna complex. Take my old friend Fiorenza Cossotto, for instance… Cossotto is a great mezzo-soprano, with a true low range that does not have to sink into chest tones. But she suffers from the prima donna complex, goes off to give Lady Macbeth a try, and returns to misbehave back home in mezzo roles.” [A story ensues how Cossotto intentionally dropped a fan in a joint Adriana Lecouvreur scene so as to draw attention away from La Scotto] “Giulietta Simionato never had a prima donna complex […] Tatiana Troyanos too…” p. 157
But the tenors are still the best — According to this book, it wasn’t Abbado who first came up with the idea that Romeo should be sung by a tenor, but Scotto. One of the worst ideas in the history of operatic staging thus has another potential creator. Pp. 72-76: “We [her husband-manager Lorenzo and she] insisted on a tenor Romeo, which would be the first time for the opera, because it would work better for my approach to the role… [I]f the right tenor could be found for the role of Romeo all of Bellini’s music could be brought to life with an added dramatic integrity for today’s audiences […] Too much academic fidelity can lead to bad theater.”
An entire chapter about the infamous La Gioconda performance at the SanFran Opera, during which a documentarian caught Scotto’s cursing tantrum on tape — ‘Le sediziose voci’ explains how it all happened. Most of the blame goes to an ‘Italian tenor’ who misses rehearsals, comes unprepared, can’t read music, and pushes himself into unplanned solo curtain calls. Was it Leo Nucci? Was it Pavarotti? Does anybody know? Do I care? All the same, the chapter will draw you into its drama, even if it’s inadvertently hilarious. Opens at p. 159.
Oh yes. The colossal importance of curtain calls — The choreography of curtain calls is something the author(s) of the book are much preoccupied with. I am supposing this is usually the case with performing artists? Scotto argues (and illustrates) that if they are not planned to the very last detail, curtain calls can turn into civil wars.
Unusually candid moments — “The Bolshoi Theatre wanted to engage me as a guest artist, and a contract was offered. This opportunity was rare for a Western artist then as now. But the money was not very good.” P. 72
The obligatory spirit world connection with a dead opera star — “The night before the performance I had a dream, a beautiful revelation in my sleep. The image of Maria Malibran appeared, as vividly as she had to the medium in Milan months earlier. She smiled and reassured me. She told me to take my entrance calmly and think of the public as my love. She told me to trust the music completely because from my mouth would come her voice.” P. 51.
Confirmed yet again: It is essential to have a wife — “My career took me all over Europe, and his was fixed in Milan. It was not easy. Eventually Lorenzo decided to leave La Scala and dedicate his musicianship and his love to help me, and he became not only the best husband but also the finest teacher and manager that any singer could hope for.” P. 61.
Moments when you must adore her —
Many. Such as:
Unique insights into music that only a singer can provide: 65 on Rigoletto, 79 on Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan, Meyerbeer’s Roberto il diavolo, 88-9 on the art of portamento and legato, 148-49 on working with stage directors, 150 on Norma (“I don’t know why, but every soprano’s best note is the B-flat”).
The loving way she talks about her fans, including some of the greatest goofballs among them (p 145). It seems that she read all fan mail and loved responding to letters. Some of her fans became friends, and at least one among them she hired (her manager Bob Lombardo was one of the three regulars who would come to her dressing room to express adoration and discuss her art after every NYC performance)
The rampaging Callasiani — Apparently, for decades and even long after Callas retired, there were grown men in NYC who would go to performances just so they could undermine a soprano by yelling Brava Callas before key arias. Scotto describes how she survived those. (Sometimes with decorum, sometimes without. You’re on her side either time.)
Should you read this diva’s memoir: Only if it’s summer and your reading plate is cleared. Otherwise, fake it you read it, and get a Scotto DVD instead.