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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, Renata Scotto!

Renata Scotto as Butterfly.
Photo © Metropolitan Opera Archives.
We'd like to take a moment to tip the top hat (a day late) to Renata Scotto, the great soprano who was one of the most powerful interpreters of Butterfly, Lucia, and other vulnerable ladies of the operatic stage up until her retirement from singing in 2002.

La Scotto was nicknamed "Little Renata" as she arrived onstage in 1952, several years after Renata Tebaldi. She made her debut as Butterfly but her breakthrough performance was in the title role of Alfredo Catalani's La Wally at La Scala, opposite "Big Renata" in the title role and tenor Mario del Monaco. Ms. Scotto received 15 curtain calls that night for her performance. Her colleagues received only seven each, and a star was born.

Her 1964 recording of Butterfly is the first of two that she made in the course of a long discography that also includes La Traviata, Andrea Chenier, and Cavalleria Rusticana. It was conducted by Sir John Barbirolli and recorded in Rome with a stellar cast remains the industry standard of that particular opera.

Ms. Scotto did not possess the spinto instrument that is ideally suited to Puccini. No, what made her interpretation so moving was the smaller, more vulnerable size of her instrument and her ability to act with her voice, drawing the character of the loved, then abandoned courtesan with a fine ink brush.

Part of the reason for that is the ardent performance of Carlo Bergonzi as B.F. Pinkerton. Mr. Bergonzi makes Pinkerton into the most charming schmuck to ever sail the seven seas. The duet at the end of Act I is medicine for the ears, and even leaves the listener believing (even for a moment) that this most poignant of Puccini tragedies will end happily.

The second act is completely dominated by La Scotto. Her rendition of "Un Bel Di" is heartbreaking because she points every word of the aria with sincere belief that the schmuck she married is coming back. The final suicide is devastating, aided by masterful conducting from Sir John Barbirolli in his first-ever opera recording.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats