Having begun vocal training when she was fourteen years old, Scotto moved to Milan when she was sixteen to continue her studies there. She made her operatic stage debut when only eighteen, singing Violetta / La traviata at Savona on Christmas Eve 1952 and the following day repeating the same role at the Teatro Nuovo, Milan.
During 1953 Scotto auditioned for the part of Walter / La Wally at La Scala, Milan; the comment of one of the auditioners, Victor De Sabata, was prophetic: ‘Forget the rest.’ She sang this role at La Scala alongside Renata Tebaldi and Mario del Monaco at the end of 1953 and was extremely well received by the Milanese audience. A few years later however she experienced a vocal crisis, in which she lost much of her upper range; advised by the tenor Alfredo Kraus, Scotto studied with his teacher Mercedes Llopart and re-emerged with a strong technique. She sang Micaëla / Carmen at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice in 1956 and in 1957 took part in a season of Italian opera at the Stoll Theatre, London in which she sang Mimì / La Bohème, Adina / L’elisir d’amore, Donna Elvira / Don Giovanni and Violetta. In the same year year she substituted for Maria Callas, whom she greatly admired, as Amina / La sonnambula at the Edinburgh Festival after an extra performance had been scheduled, and was projected into international stardom.
Scotto now made her name as one of the finest bel canto singers in Italy. In addition to singing the traditional repertoire, she participated in many revivals of previously forgotten works, such as Bellini’s Zaira, La straniera and I Capuleti e i Montecchi (in which she sang Giulietta), Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan and Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable. She appeared at the Verona Arena on many occasions from 1961 until 1974, in 1981 both directing and singing the title role in Madama Butterfly. She also appeared throughout Europe: in Germany, Switzerland, and Hungary as well as in Vienna, Paris, and Moscow, the last with the company of La Scala in 1964.
Chicago was the venue for Scotto’s American debut: as Mimì in 1960, the year in which she married the violinist Lorenzo Anselmi. Two years later she appeared for the first time at the Royal Opera House, London singing both Butterfly and Mimì. Scotto returned to Covent Garden often, singing the title role in Massenet’s Manon (1963), Violetta (1965), Amina (1971) and Lady Macbeth / Macbeth (1981), the last in a new production directed by Elijah Moshinsky and conducted by Riccardo Muti.
At the Metropolitan Opera, Scotto’s debut took place in 1965 when she sang Butterfly followed by Adina and the title part in Lucia di Lammermoor. For the next twenty-two years she sang regularly at the Met as an undisputed star of the first rank, gradually extending her repertoire to include major dramatic soprano roles. Her parts there included Violetta (1967), Gilda / Rigoletto and Marguerite / Faust (both 1971), Amina and Mimì (both 1972), Elena / I vespri siciliani (1974), Giorgetta / Il tabarro, Angelica / Suor Angelica, Lauretta / Gianni Schicchi (1976), Leonora / Il trovatore (1976), Bertha / Le Prophète (1977), Adriana / Adriana Lecouvreur (1978), Desdemona / Otello (1978), Luisa / Luisa Miller (1979), Elisabetta / Don Carlo (1979), the title roles in La Gioconda (1979), Manon Lescaut (1980), Tosca and Norma (the latter two from1981), Lady Macbeth (1982), Francesca / Francesca da Rimini and Vitellia / La clemenza di Tito ( both from 1984). Her final performance at the Met was as Butterfly in 1987.
In Europe Scotto now turned to heavier roles, singing the title part in Giordano’s Fedora at Barcelona (1988), the Marschallin / Der Rosenkavalier at Catania (1992), the Woman / La Voix humaine at the Florence Maggio Musicale (1993), Kundry / Parsifal in a concert performance at Schwerin in 1995, Madame Flora / The Medium at Turin (1999) and Klytaemnestra / Elektra (Baltimore, 2000). From the 1980s onwards she developed a successful career as a stage director, producing (among many other operas) Madama Butterfly at the Met, Il pirata and La sonnambula at Catania in 1993 and 1994 respectively, La traviata at New York City Opera in 1995, Adriana Lecouvreur at Santiago in 2002 and La Bohème and Un ballo in maschera at Chicago in 2007 and 2010 respectively.
Scotto stands out as one of the finest opera singers of the second half of the twentieth century, possessing a naturally beautiful voice and a strong stage presence. As the critic Alan Blyth pointed out, she was especially affecting in situations demanding pathos, such as the second act of La traviata and the final acts of La sonnambula and Madama Butterfly. A hard worker, she credited her move to America as giving her the freedom to develop artistically in numerous directions. Her recordings, both official and unofficial, chronicle a career of great accomplishment and artistic richness.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).
Role: Classical Artist