Cher Public

Scotto talks

Parterre’s tutelary diva shares espresso and cookies with parterre’s fave scribe Zachary Woolfe in preparation for the gala Met Legends event honoring her next Sunday.

One vital point Zack brings out is that Scotto is “part of the first generation of ‘new-media’ divas,” and we therefore have lots of video documentation of her stage magic. As for example:

  • armerjacquino

    Let’s put the cat among the pigeons, shall we?

    “For Violetta you have to be slim,” she said, “also for Mimi. If you’re tall and big, maybe Mimi is not right for you, although vocally it’s perfect. There was a time, not my time but before my time, when it didn’t matter. Only the music mattered. Today it’s different, but I think it’s right.”

    “Tradition, I don’t like this,” she said. “Old-fashioned, I hate. Tradition, what is it? What is tradition? I don’t understand. Tradition, it’s to do the old stuff? Then it’s old stuff.”


    • That last quote is definitely the “mot du jour.”


  • RudigerVT

    ZOMG, check out the chorine on Scotto’s left in the first couple of minutes. Can’t get comfy. Oh yeah. I’m supposed to (pretend) to be watching her. Pfft. She’s such a Glauce.


    • mrsjohnclaggart

      I do think it is a conundrum. When I heard Pop Tart do in Violetta I thought this was amateurish vocally. it was a ‘disservice’ to Verdi because his ‘drama’, his dramatic action, is entirely in the vocal line. It is not fueled by harmonic or orchestral complexity, nor does he in moments of great dramatic meaning, write dialog (quasi parlando).

      It’s not only the end of act one that is an issue, it is the entire role. The singer must be able first of all to sing but then also to sing expressively: legato, marcato, quickly, slowly, make a crescendo, a decrescendo, and do justice to the huge vocabulary Verdi uses to create his character. Realized well the results are not ‘showing off’ but expressing a fully understood character using the techniques the composer has used to express that understanding.

      In fact, the less showy moments later in the opera lead back to the scena that ends act one — for a voice not highly responsive (and thus able to execute florid demands easily and accurately) is not likely to have in its compass a convincing legato, declamation of color and force (without forcing), a well projected in tune piano and pianissimo, a powerfully focused and not screamed crescendo and fortissimo. And someone with this technique can make all the many minute adjustments that the vocal line calls for, sculpting in sound a character with whom the creator has identified profoundly.

      With every lapse, every compromise, Pop betrayed the work, just as a Lear with an intermittent lisp and stutter would finally undermine and betray Shakespeare. I don’t think there is any way to get around that. Could a fat Violetta who could really sing the role be effective today?

      The issue isn’t weight, it’s skill, which comes from the right concept of what a role requires, teachers and coaches who know that, and a willingness to practice those skills. Patti, Sembrich, the younger Melba, Lilli Lehmann (! she sang the part) were not fat at all. But all understood this vocabulary and can use it to strong effect. Even in her records, made late, where of course there are many problems, Patti can still find the ‘hold your breath’ pathos of “Ah, non credea”.

      Can “acting” well without these skills work in Traviata and operas like it? I don’t see how, anymore than “acting” in Shakespeare can compensate for a severe speech defect and a failure to understand the lines in the style in which they’re written.

      The operas like Traviata are not plays like Streetcar (though a Blanche without the ability to project those long beautiful speeches would be ineffective and lead the play to be ineffective, as Jessica Lange did for example) nor are they (perhaps more germane to the younger people on parterre) movies (where Jessica Lange gave some great performances). Plays in a telegraphic dialog style (most, today), movies, with their many cuts and the elaborate post production that goes on (especially today) are a universe away from Verdi, where time stops for a character to reveal herself (or himself) in elaborate and technically demanding song. Mastering the mechanics of that song is in fact part of the challenge of ‘acting’ those roles.

      To say that the singing isn’t important is to say the works are not important. A world where the kind of singing necessary is never taught or insisted upon, and very few if anyone takes the time to master it, and listeners are no longer sensitive to this expressive vocabulary is a world where these operas are best experienced on the old records where the vocabulary has been mastered.

      I don’t believe a tremendously interesting production alone, conventional or not, in which the singers fit themselves comfortably enough will work with Traviata and any number of operas like it, if these vocal issues are not effectively addressed.

      Better as I once said here to discard this rep and find thrilling new works that the singers of today can master, and ‘own’.

      • Indiana Loiterer III

        I would agree with everything Mrs. JC says except that I’m dubious about her conclusions that we should “discard this rep and find thrilling new works that the singers of today can master, and ‘own’”. I’m not saying this because I don’t want thrilling new works, etc, etc. I’m saying this because the ability to put across a sustained vocal line is as important for an Adams or a Saariaho as it is for Verdi, even if the nature of the lines differ. (And what kind of sustained vocal line can you make out of current pop culture’s telegraphic dialogue? Composers have to go elsewhere for help; which is where you get the likes of Alice Goodman.) If the singers of today lack that ability--and not all of them do lack it--they’ll have the same trouble with new works as Poplavskaya had with Traviata; which theatrically takes us right back where we started.

        • armerjacquino

          Also, whatever you may think of Poplavskaya, it’s just flat out not true that there are no singers today who can master Violetta.

      • Evenhanded


        Superb post, Mrs. JC -- perhaps the finest I have ever seen from you. I agree 100% concerning the points you have made about vocal technique (or the lack thereof). I would only and one thought concerning the analogy you made to Shakespeare:


        There is one important difference between Verdi and Shakespeare: MUSIC. Yes, a severe speech defect could fatally compromise a staging of King Lear. And a singing technique as flawed as Poplavskaya’s is never a good thing. BUT -- in Traviata the music is there -- and thus, Verdi’s genius can still come across, even if the singer sucks. My suspicion is that many who ‘loved’ Poplavskaya’s Violetta where in fact swayed by her convincing acting (excellent, for the most part, IMO). But more than her acting, they were moved by VERDI and his incredible music.

        So I would hate to shelve (or worse, discard) the repertoire. A poor singer can distract from the music -- sometimes fatally -- and we can feel disappointed that an artist hasn’t the resources or technique to ideally illuminate the composer’s intentions. But we can still enjoy the music on its own merit, despite the interpreter’s limitations.

        • Evenhanded


          I forgot about not using the damn brackets. Here is the section of Mrs. JC’s post I was trying to quote:

          “Can “acting” well without these skills work in Traviata and operas like it? I don’t see how, anymore than “acting” in Shakespeare can compensate for a severe speech defect and a failure to understand the lines in the style in which they’re written.”

      • luvtennis


        I posted exactly the same thing at least five times last week. . . .

        Just teasing, of course. Brilliant post and so completely realized that I cannot imagine any reasonable and reasonably well-informed poster disagreeing with any significant portion of it.


        (I have expressed this many of the same conclusions and sentiments before, but sadly I used a popgun. You used the Big Mo!)

      • Niel Rishoi

        Mrs. JC, thank you for a wonderful posting. What’s so eye-opening about Pop Tart’s “amateurish” singing is that Verdi’s score is so well-written it practically sings itself: he’s given the soprano everything she needs without unduly causing problems (save for ‘sempre libera’) If Pop T cannot even manage a role that “sings itself,” she’s really deficient and I might add, clueless about musical values. Technique? What technique? The role was “studied” but not mastered. She knew what she was singing but couldn’t transmit it fluently.

  • iltenoredigrazia

    As much a Scotto fan as I am, some of those quotes don’t reflect what she stoof for. She knew the Italian opera traditions inside out and used them plentifully to her advantage. Prior to 1972 she would extrapolate all sorts of high notes and embellishments in the coloratura roles. She was a consumate expert at milking the applause. (There’s the story of a Rigoletto performance where she came to the front of the stage to acknowledge the applause after Caro Nome. Never mind that she had to get her way through the conspirators getting ready to abduct her.) It was all part of what made her such a unique artist and star. Those traditions often meant showing off and I for one loved her for it.

    As for being tall, etc., would she tell a young Scotto to abandon a singing career because of her short stature? I hope not.

    • I remember seeing Mme Scotto in Il Tabarro, scampering nimbly on the curved top of the boat in the Seine in the HIGHEST platform heels I have ever seen a diva perform in.

      • Here she is in the shoes:

        • MontyNostry

          That clip is near genius.

          • perfidia

            Vasile Moldoveanu looks kind of nice in a Prince of Darkness sort of way. I love Scotto. What a way with the poetry of the words and the music together. But boy, that C is just a pitched scream. Otherwise, there aren’t a lot of sopranos around today who could do such a complete portrayal. And I don’t care what she says. I treasure her fat Mimi with Pavarotti.

        • iltenoredigrazia

          That clip by itself places Scotto about the immortals.

        • This is one of my very favourite Scotto clips. I”ve posted it here before myself and it bears repeating.

          • chaka

            Ahhhh…opera is so satisfying when there is a marriage of great acting and singing.

            Scotto was da bomb!

  • Harry

    Unlike a qute a few lauded today Scotto was the real thing. The other day I happened to listen to Angela G’s EMI Puccini Arias Album with the Tosca Vissi d’arte (bonus?)disc thrown in for good measure. Comparing Angela G, to Scotto…….would be a heresy IMO. Gheorghiu was showing clear signs of being tired, labored, mannered,not breathing properly and under pitch in too many instances. By the time Angela G gets to wrapping things up finally, with a suicidal attempt at ‘In questa reggia’…I had to turn the loaned CDs off It was getting ‘painful’. ‘This star’?
    I was puzzled….was I trying to be cruel, bitchy…what? Then I realized what it is. Gheorghiu, fatally has ‘no face’ to her singing. She coldly sings ‘at you’ not ‘to you’. Scotto..immediately on the other hand warmly conjures up various facial expression, emotion, feeling, and the various situations her characters find themselves in.

    • manou

      Hi Harry -- hope you are well and looking after yourself.

    • Niel Rishoi

      Harry, I should also add that Vampira’s demerits should also include plagiarism. I had the recital for exactly one day. Here’s what you do: take Callas’s Puccini recital, play each corresponding number of Callas’s first, then play Gheorghiu’s. Vampira has bitten Callas’s neck and absorbed her coloring of vowels, her phrasing, the timbre, the individual bits of vocal effects. The same thing occurred on Gheorghiu’s Verdi recital, the bel canto recital, and whatever else Callas has left documents of. Gheorghiu has, still, after all these years, a very vague artistic profile. What has she sung that she can call her own? Arguably,the loveliest timbre, has presence and verve. But her pursuit of the Callas throne will be, ultimately, fruitless.

      • sensibility

        This is the most unfair thing I’ve ever heard! To say that Angela G “has no face to her singing” while her stamp on the parts she sings, her individuality are the most well-known things abiut her.
        As for Niel- yes, you are just bitchy ,nothing to comment.I heve tens of things that are contrary to yours.Starting from the “Vampira”…to “absorbed her coloring of vowels, her phrasing, the timbre, the individual bits of vocal effects”.
        Just “let’s talk badly about Angela”,nothing valid.

      • Harry

        Yes Neils Rishoi: reinforced by Angela G’s Puccini Album loaned to me I came to the same conclusion, yes the timbre is attractive but then she let’s the whole thing down. Without me, trying to start some ‘bitch fight’ with others here -most noticeable under pitch occasionally, as she attempts pianissimos! Previously, I happened to buy that Angela G. -- Verdi Recital….once played,( but not since). I was willing to get her a second try. In fact I wanted to look forward, to liking her. Alas! I suspect everything Angela G does , comes from ‘outside’ then attempts to apply herself ‘working in’. The falseness is quickly apparent. If we take just that acting /singing gesture of ‘imploring’ someone (a person) or for -- something (wistfully hoping for some happy situation in an opera plot- but it will not happen!): not only Scotto but say Tebaldi, Callas, De los Angeles, Price or Freni ‘could break a heart’ in the blink of an eye.

        P.S to ‘Sensibility'(4.2.1)-
        Will someone tell Angela G to learn to breathe correctly while singing? With the bad press she gets for too much canceling… perhaps it hides possible ‘human nerves’ on Angela G’s part. Usually a singer that senses their own technique is not fully up to scratch’ will play the flirting pandering game with managements.. By entertaining offers (good for their press media) , yet not willing to fully ‘stand there and actually solidly deliver the goods’ from reliable start to finish of terms of contract. The big acid test: When has Angela G (in this current era of opera, we are now in)…actually ‘owned at least some one role’ or even rivaled previous singers’ contributions during the progress of this, her career? A desert Island disc perhaps???!!! Just one? That’s a fair question. No one can deny she do not have a large enough representative recorded repertoire for them, to pick from. That’s all I am asking. All the other singers I previously mentioned and a lot of others not mentioned , have. Instead Angela G. appears to be some fashionable transient, just passing through the realms of opera- that caught the eye of record companies.

  • WindyCityOperaman

    Fact is, La Scotto represents tradition, the kind of tradition that opera lovers long for when they go to the theatre. A combination of great singing, great acting, great music that gives the audience a total experience.

    Case in point, look at her video of Luisa Miller from the Met, and sit real close to the screen. Even though its a pretty silly opera, you really have experienced the character’s conflict personally.

    Scotto was in a class of her own, and I hated the bad-mouthing she got from a lot of nasty opera queens out there.

    • WindyCityOperaman

    • Niel Rishoi

      I take it you disagree with what I wrote.

  • armerjacquino

    ‘some of these quotes don’t represent what she stood for’
    ‘fact is, Scotto represents tradition’


    ‘I know more about her than she does’

    • Why such a dumb statement? The fact is that as much as Scotto likes to tell everyone that she doesn’t care for tradition she is more in line with it than she admits.

      Her Ballo in Chicago was so traditional it could have been a revival of something from the 50’s.

      Her singing and her sticking to those traditions she now professes to disdain is nonsensical and oxymoronic. It was not until towards the end of her career, when she could no longer produce the extreme high notes that she was famous for that she hid behind the whole “come scritto” facade so she would not have to interpolate them.

      She might want to profess this new disdain for “tradition”, but the proof of the pudding is in the taste. Take a look at her career and what she did and what she has continued to do and you will find a woman that talks the talk, but does not walk it.

      You challenging that is pretty naive.

      • armerjacquino

        Ah, someone else who knows more about what she thinks than she does. This is fun.

        • Well, I am sure it is for someone who is completely ignorant of facts based on history.

          Other people, you know, those who read, will notice the discrepancy between what she preaches and what she does/did. But then, why should it made a difference in the small brained?

          The Mormon Church said they were not banking the Prop. 8 campaign…

          The National organization for Marriage said they were not interested in keeping gay people from civil unions…

          Nixon said he was not a crook…

          Clinton said he did not have sexual relations with that woman…

          According to Kathleen Battle herself, she is the nicest person you will ever meet…

          Ricardo Muti said the early Verdi operas should be performed exactly how the appear in the page…

          When Richard Bonynge recorded Don Giovanni, critics and musicologists called for his stoning because we all knew that Mozart wrote his operas exactly the way he wanted them performed; and not ONE extra note…

          And finally, the Catholic church will tell you they did everything in their power to protect children from pedophile priests…

          I take you still believe these things because, well, who needs evidence, what we need to believe is what they told us, right sweetie?

          • armerjacquino

            ‘those who read’ ‘the small brained’ ‘sweetie’

            I always mistrust people who feel the need to be condescending and can’t make a point without being snide.

            Especially, as in this case, when they have failed to understand a key distinction. Of course I’m aware that people’s actions don’t always match up to their statements, as evidenced in your patronising little list. What I find odd about the response to this Scotto interview are the suggestions that she doesn’t hold the opinions she expresses. That’s a huge leap, and entirely different.

            Why not address that point, rather than being needlessly insulting?

          • figaroindy

            I would rather post this below, but there’s no reply link there --

            Amerjacquino -- your post at 6 is nothing but snide and condescending. Is it acceptable for you, but for no one else? Really, this is a “hello, pot..” moment.

            I think it’s safe to say that Scotto was an excellent actress/singer…but her roles and the productions she was in definitely tended toward the traditional. I agree with Lindoro, having seen the Ballo at LOC last year, it wasn’t earthshattering, and was basically noted in the press as being a very standard traditional staging. No matter what she said/says.

          • armerjacquino

            figaroindy- I’m sorry you think I’m adopting a double standard, and that my post at 6 is snide and condescending. It reads like a fairly uninflected observation to me: I was and remain surprised that people should read such an interview and say ‘she says she thinks X, but actually she thinks Y’.

            Lindoro opened his response by calling my observation ‘dumb’, before going on to call me ‘small brained’ ‘ignorant’ and unable to read. If you think there’s anything in 6 that’s comparable to that, there’s not much I can say.

          • The issue here is whether Scotto was being disingenuous or hypocritical in questioning the value of “tradition.” Is her point of view so different from someone who says “I worked in city government for many years and in hindsight I know now that the system is terribly flawed?”

            In fact, Scotto did it both ways, the traditional and the new, and what her final statement seems to say is: tradition isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; no matter how you perform, you’ve got to work at making your art the best you can.

            In fact, I remember a master class with Scotto when she was working with a tenor on “Una furtiva lagrima.” He did a “traditional” portamento at one point and she stopped him and said, “that is a beautiful portamento but it should not be added unless you have a good reason for it. What is the reason to sing that portamento?” He answered that the portamento occurred at the point of modulation from minor to major in the piece and so the effect emphasized that key change.

            Scotto paused for a moment, then said, “Well, that is a reason.”

            So that, I think, is what she was implying about tradition: without a reason it’s just “old stuff.” The corollary to that, of course, is that with a reason, tradition is a good deal more than “old stuff.”

        • Harry

          armerjacquino: We are in a position to study someone’s career… ( as here, so vividly documented as in remembered live performances /videos / and recordings), showing their choices of repertoire, the style and actual trained singing technique. We are able ‘to zero in ‘-on the ‘School’ they belonged to and which they always used. I think any good observer can discern objectively what Scotto ‘actually represented and relied upon’ to have a career.
          We can say in such instances: ‘Actions speak louder than words ….OR made wily public statements attributed to someone , or otherwise made -- perhaps meant to puzzle or perplex’.
          Otherwise it is like debating whether a famed life saving brain surgeon was really a creator of Amazonian shrunken heads because the surgeon jokingly made that reported comment to a journalist one day.

  • Nerva Nelli

    OT- Elizabeth Bishop is going on for Susan Graham again as Iphigenie. It is becoming almost de rigeur that stars do a Comparable Hildegard move and let the Penelope Daners go on until they themsleves have the telecasts.

    Word is the very solidly gifted Ms. Bishop did very well last time she went on…

    Question: am I right in thinking that Mr. Gelb only makes subbng annouuncements himself when he can expect an ovation for replacing a star with a star?

    • scifisci

      If you are referring to the Alagna situation I think that was a bit different since he was never the cover for alvarez and had never sung in the production and was asked to jump-in last minute.

    • mifune

      I think he only does an announcements when they do an announcement (i.e. when they don’t have enough warning to put a little piece of paper in all the programs).

    • Bosah

      I don’t know, NN. That doesn’t sound like Susan Graham, at least I don’t think so. Strange.

  • scifisci

    OT: Back from Dimitri’s recital at carnegie. Love to hear him w/ just piano….all the complex colors in his voice (esp. the lower parts) come through, although he had to contend with some loud ringtones and lots of talking in russian. He seemed to be going a lot for decibals and drama and for much of the recital I found myself missing his mesmerizing legato and plush, rounded tone, but thankfully for the last of tchaikovsky’s six romances and for his encores (one russian song, one neopolitan song, and one unaccompanied russian folk song), all that makes him one of the greatest living singers was revealed. He can still do just about anything with his voice and the control and responsiveness are remarkable. I just wished he didn’t wear such a ridiculous outfit….he looked like a magician.

    Regarding the scotto interview, it’s so rare to find an aged diva who can evaluate her career--the successes and mistakes--with such candidness!

    • ipomoea

      OT Scfisci--
      Thank for the update on DH. I’m going Sunday in Boston where DH is singing in Symphony Hall (smaller Jordan Hall would suit his voice better). Announced program is same as New York, SF et al. I’m hoping for a great afternoon. But the “loud ringtones and lots of talking” you report bode no good, as does the fact that orchestra tickets here have been going for $43 instead of $83 to attempt to fill the large hall… That irks me for two reasons — I bought my ticket in December at the regular price (grrrr!); and chances are there will be hordes of nekulturnye khuligany with phones, plastic bags, and loud yapping.

      • Harry

        ipomoea: Don’t, the organizers make a public announcement just before a performance commences ‘for the audience to check and turn off their cell phones’? At the very least, I thought this was ‘now standard practice’ all over the rest of the civilized World amongst the allegedly ‘civilized’.

        • ipomoea

          Harry —
          I just spoke by phone to Boston Celebrity Series suggesting that they publicly announce OUT LOUD “no gadgets etc.” before the concert in both English and Russian. They put me off by saying they will have the usual visual announcement (English only) projected on the stage walls of Symphony Hall…
          Unfortunately not now “standard practice” among the “allegedly ‘civilized'”. Too bad.

          • The elegant European solution for this (instead of a multilingual announcement) is several loudly amplified cell rings as the lights go down. Simple and no need for translation.

    • Bosah

      Thanks for the review. Sounds amazing, as expected. I may check him out in Boston, since it seems there are seats (thanks ipemoea).

  • atalaya

    Iphigenie and Tauride was a bit of a mess tonight. It sounded like Elizabeth Bishop dropped out during “O malheureuse iphigénie” and we heard the prompter singing. I don’t blame Bishop for this -- the conducting was very erratic. Later on in the same song, when the chorus is supposed to kick in, they seemed completely lost as well.

    Tempos later on in the evening were really, really pushed. I’ve been to all three I&Ts and the speed was very strange tonight. Often not just slightly faster than the other nights but a huge difference in tempo. That could not have made the singers happy. Bishop did a great job in keeping up.

    Despite the not always tight coordination, I think it was still a great night. Maybe just because I love this gorgeous opera so much. The quickened tempo added a certain thrill. Big applause for Bishop at the end. She’s probably having a few stiff drinks right now after surviving the evening.

    • Buster

      Frau Bishop: hold for five minutes:


      • Buster

        … and relax:


  • bobsnsane

    Oh and please allow me to destroy that ‘deep breathing and tranquility’ .
    I posted many comments on the Koch/Walker controversy.

    It seems like y’all are listening to too much opera!
    What else could explain some of the curious notions
    ‘imagined’ in that discussion.

    I don’t believe many will enjoy them -- but facts are stubborn things.

    So try to go easy with the liberal hegemony, ‘K.

    • Indiana Loiterer III

      Why advertise it? Those of us interested in discussing your points are already on the appropriate thread. Those of us interested in discussing opera have the rest of the site to discuss opera. But that, I suppose, is a figment of “liberal hegemony”, which must be crushed until all Parterrebox is made indistinguishable from any randomly selected portion of Free Republic.

      • bobsnsane


  • thenoctambulist

    I haven’t heard much of this lady but a few days ago, I listened to her Anna Bolena. It was just ghastly. She just chucked anything Donizetti might have written and sang her own poorly composed music.

    Niel, your criticism of being a Callas wannabe might apply more to Scotto than Gheorghiu.

  • Sorry to threadjack but last night I came back from a concert with another dimunitive diva — LADY GAGA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Omg it was amazing, unless you’ve seen all of MSG screaming and crying during the refrain of “Bad Romance” you haven’t experienced Gaga. And the night was capped off when we were leaving the concert, walked to the subway, and plopped down in the subway seat only to notice Caroline Kennedy right across from us. I guess me and my friend were trying hard not to stare but not doing a good job so she waved and said hi. CAROLINE KENNEDY IS A LITTLE MONSTER TOO!

    • armerjacquino

      I found Madonna boring enough first time round…