By Greg Carannante
She is celebrated as the greatest soprano of her generation, but for Renata Scotto that is not enough. A vibrant 82, she is an outspoken advocate for the arts, talking up and teaching opera at the Met and other major opera houses and conservatories around the world. And she gives back to her beloved art form by helping to discover and hone talented young singers from Italy to New York.
Friday night (March 25), in a tribute to this illustrious 60-year career, one more honor will be added to a collection that includes two Emmy Awards and an honorary doctorate from Juilliard. La Scotto will be presented with the Venetian Arts Society’s first ICON Award at a multimedia salon concert in Dania Beach performed by Puerto Rican soprano Magda Nieves.
Though she won’t be singing on this night (she retired from performing in 2002), Scotto does still sing.
“I sing only with my children when I need to show them the shape of some phrase or some words, to understand the meaning of the word inside a phrase – then sometimes I show with my voice,” she says in a melodious Italian accent. “But I don’t tell them, ‘Please do as I do.’ You create your own, but this phrase has this meaning.
“So I always teach this way, to understand that when you have a beautiful voice and you have beautiful words, it’s not for you. You have to make the people understand. It’s like reading, but instead you sing.”
Her passion for nurturing young artists is in part fueled by what she perceives as a lack of support for the arts. “I’m outspoken because I have to [be]. Everywhere in this country, and especially in my country, I don’t see that art is promoted. The government doesn’t believe culture and art should go from ‘baby to old people,’ so I chafe about it. What I feel and what I think, I say. It cannot stay inside of me.”
Speaking with City & Shore on the day of a dinner party at the home of renowned conductor and longtime friend James Judd, former Florida Philharmonic musical director, the seasonal Lauderdale-by-the-Sea resident reflected on a lifetime of music that began at age 12 in Milan, when she first studied piano because she was too young for voice lessons.
“The dedication to the art was my dream since I was a little girl. When I was 16 I was able to get a voice teacher because 16 is the age to begin – not before, because you can ruin your voice.
“I remember my debut at La Scala in Milan, I was so young – I was only 19. And that is something that stays with me all my life. And when I met my husband [Lorenzo Anselmi], he was playing at La Scala. So La Scala has been in my heart for many moments.”
Italy may have her heart, but it was New York at the Metropolitan Opera, where she debuted in 1965, that gave her her name and where for more than 20 years she sang over 300 performances in 26 roles. “The Met opened my voice and my artistry to the world,” says the bel canto soprano.
It won’t be a prestigious opera house where she will be honored Friday night, but she adores the venue of the “Voices in the Gallery” salon concert, the Gallery of Amazing Things.
“It’s fantastic, really beautiful. It’s very rare. They have contemporary art and the most beautiful porcelain from all over the world,” Scotto says. “I wish we had concerts all over the world in museums. It’s a special place. You bring music and the museum gets alive immediately. And the paintings are singing with you!”
The prima donna says she is looking forward to the performance of soprano Nieves, of whom she has only seen concert videos. “She has a beautiful voice. I like very much her Turandot. I think she’s a very talented woman.”
Scotto is naturally happy to continue to receive such acclaim but admits she is also “ashamed that I will never thank enough all the people that want to remember me. My life was dedicated to the art of bel canto and to make people happy –
of course, half of my life because my other life is me and my family.”
Though she resides with her husband in Italy and New York state, for the past several years Scotto has been wintering in South Florida. “First we came to Miami Beach, but then I didn’t like it because it became crowded. I prefer Fort Lauderdale because it’s calm and beautiful.”
For details about the Venetian Arts Society salon concert, please visit VenetianArtsSociety.org or call William Riddle at 954-709-7447. Tickets are $40 per person for members and $55 for non-members.