Obituary: Legendary Soprano Renata Scotto Dies at 89

By Francisco Salazar

Legendary soprano Renata Scotto has passed away at the age of 89.

The soprano went on to become one of the most revered sopranos of her generation for her sense of style, her musicality, and as a great singing actress.

Born on Feb. 24, 1934, in Savona Italy, Scotto made her operatic debut in her hometown on Christmas Eve of 1952 at the age of 18 in Verdi’s “La Traviata” and the next day she made her “official” opera debut at the Teatro Nuovo in Milan, also in “La Traviata.” She would return to Savona for “Madama Butterfly” that same year.

She had her big breakthrough at the Teatro alla Scala in 1953 during a production of “La Wally” when she sang on opening night alongside Renata Tebaldi and Mario del Monaco. Scotto had 15 curtain calls, while stars Tebaldi and Del Monaco each received seven.

However, her breakout came on Sept. 3, 1957 at the Edinburgh Festival when the Teatro alla Scala performed its production of Bellini’s “La Sonnambula” with Maria Callas. The production was so successful that the company added an unscheduled fifth performance but Callas declined to perform in the added show. As a result, Scotto took the role of Amina and at the age of 23 became an international opera star.

In the 1960s she became one of the leading singers in the bel canto revival and sang such operas as Bellini’s “Zaira,” “I Capuleti e Montecchi” and “La straniera,” Donizetti’s “Maria di Rohan,” and Meyerbeer’s “Robert le Diable.” She also went on to sing Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore,” “Lucia di Lammermoor,” and “Anna Bolena.”

She made history with the Teatro alla Scala when the company became the first to tour the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow during the Cold War. In 1960 she made her American debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Mimì in “La Bohème” and in 1965 she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cio-Cio-San in “Madama Butterfly.” She would become associated with the company performing 314 times in 26 roles through 1987.

With the company, she made history by opening the company’s Live from the Met telecasts in 1977 with Puccini’s “La Bohème” and would be featured in telecasts of “Manon Lescaut,” “Luisa Miller,” “Don Carlo,” “Il trittico,” “Francesca da Rimini” and “Otello.”

At the Met, she also performed in productions of “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “Macbeth,” “La Traviata,” “Rigoletto,” “L’Elisir d’Amore,” “Faust,” “La Sonnambula,” “I Vespri Siciliani,” “Le Prophète,” “Il Trovatore,” “Adriana Lecouvreur,” “La Gioconda,” “Tosca,” “Norma,” Verdi’s “Requiem,” and “La Clemenza di Tito.”

Outside of her success in New York, Scotto sang at every major opera house in the world including the San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dallas Opera, Royal Opera House, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Teatro La Fenice, and Teatro Colón, among many others.

In her later years, Scotto shifted her repertoire toward dramatic and lower roles including “Fedora,” Charlotte in Massenet’s “Werther,” the Marschallin in “Der Rosenkavalier,” Kundry in “Parsifal,” Elle in “La voix humaine,” Madame Flora in “The Medium,” and Klytemnestra in “Elektra.”

Following her singing career, the soprano went on to direct opera at the Michigan Opera Theatre, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Palm Beach Opera, New York City Opera, and the Dallas Opera, among others.

She also went on to teach and hold master classes. She held academic posts at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome and the Juilliard School in New York.

Regarding her work in masterclasses, Scotto told OperaWire in 2017, “I work a lot on the body with students. The body language has to come with the singing and the words. The body is moving with the voice and the expression. It has to be about the communication of the language. The hands are very important to help the expression but not too much. It’s really the measure in everything that you have to use.”

In her long career, Scotto went on to receive multiple awards including the Opera News Award, Opera Tampa’s Anton Coppola Award for Excellence in the Arts, an Honorary Doctorate by The Juilliard School, two Emmy Awards, Franco Albiatti della Critica Italiana and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung award. She performed 45 roles from 18 different composers.

She also left an immense discography that included such legendary recordings of “Madama Butterfly,” “La Bohème,” “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “La Traviata,” “Le Villi,” “Adriana Lecourevur,” “Andrea Chenier,” “Otello,” “Cavalleria Rusticana,” and “Pagliacci,” to name a few. She was also featured on a number of broadcasts that included performances of “Macbeth,” “Il Trovatore,” and “L’Elisir d’Amore,” among others.

Scotto was married to Lorenzo Anselmi, who passed in 2021. She is survived by her two children, Laura, who is a manager of a publicity agency, and Filippo, who runs an opera artists management agency.

Here are some clips of her legendary performances of “Manon Lescaut,” “La Gioconda,” “Luisa Miller,” and “La Bohème.”