Spanish conductor Ramón Tebar writes about Renata Scotto, after the death of the legendary Italian soprano.
Love for Renata. Admiration for Scotto
By Ramón Tebar
While much is being written these days, with a better craft than mine, in hundreds of detailed and stupendous articles in the press around the world about the immense loss of Renata Scotto, I will limit myself to not trying to compete with such magnificent obituaries and I will simply speak of the Renata that I knew, hoping that my humble contribution can somehow pay homage to her memory.
I met her in Miami, at a dinner at the house of Bob Heuer, then general director of the Florida Grand Opera, in which was, among others, the painter and also close friend of hers, Sebastian Spreng. Bob put me next to her, and we didn't stop talking all night. Since then, music brought us together.
She was witty, aastuteness, nice, strict, relentless. Her eyes radiated a particularly sparkling light. With a glance she could strike down a singer or send kisses with her eyes after a well-defined phrase. Her faces of suffering when the notes were out of tune, or her dreamy look when a phrase had been to her liking were indescribable, and if so, then suddenly, she would throw kisses of gratitude to the air. When she spoke, her voice replicated the expressive registers and colors with which her singing voice had transmitted with great and natural musicality years ago.
I have to admit that, at the time when I met her, despite her having already earned her well-deserved position in the Olympus of the greats, I had not followed her career as closely as those of Caballé, Berganza, Domingo, Zeani,... with whom I had already had the opportunity to make music. Until then, I had met several great artists, but not every time had I gotten to know the person. This was the first time I met the person who later discovered to me the great artist. Meeting Renata took me to Scotto. And from there arose a fascination that has not ceased. Imagine getting to know a personality like hers at the same time that I was discovering her artistic greatness. Being close to her was a blessing and a privilege.
We spent a lot of time together rehearsing, making or talking about music, teaching young singers, in concerts, etc... We didn't only share musical experiences, but also a multitude of personal moments, with friends, with family, in countless lunches, dinners,... I still remember when she came to my Miami house and lay on the carpet to play with my daughters, or ate one of my mother's paellas. I had the immense fortune of keeping learning from her at all those moments. Sometimes I even think that the singers of the productions we worked with or the students we taught together didn't learn as much as I did from her. Such was the admiration I professed for her and how I took advantage of every second by her side.
What I admired the most from her was her artistic honesty, her rigor and commitment to music. You don't negotiate with art or music. The score, the text, were of paramount importance. The in-depth study of the score was an essential requirement to start discussing it. Presenting an unprepared work was an absolute lack of respect. Not paying attention to the composer's indications was an offense to artistic integrity.
I tried not to miss the slightest opportunity to find out about the greats of the past with whom she worked, and she generously told me what she learned from each one, as well as so many anecdotes, some of them hilarious. She had a fantastic sense of humor.
As an orchestra conductor, I owe her a lot. I have always believed that my best teachers have been the great singers and the bad conductors. The first ones for taught me what to do and from observing the other ones, what not to do. Listening to what Renata learned from Karajan, Gavazzeni, Giulini, Barbirolli, Molinari Pradelli, Bartoletti, Sinopoli, Muti, Abbado, Levine,... helped me see orchestra conducting from a different perspective than any conductor could give me: that of the singer in front of the podium, not just the director's behind him.
All that learning that she got formed a very prepared singer, of great scenic conviction and interpretative strength, in which the composer and its work were the beacon to follow. And to me, who was fortunate enough to absorb so many of her teachings, whether making music together, conducting operas with her as stage director, or as a teacher, as in the academy that we founded together in Naples, she approached me the immensity of the club of the chosen ones, to which she belonged.
She came, with her husband Lorenzo, to almost all the operas I conducted during my decade in Miami, apart from concerts in other cities such as Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale or Naples, and even accompanied me on some other project to Spain. Her comments, her advice were a continuous source of inspiration, and many of them are present with me before going on stage.
When Lorenzo died, it was no longer the same Renata I met. Knowing her as I did, made me love the person and admire the artist.
If it is something accepted by everyone that Scotto has left a great mark on performance history since the middle of the last century, Renata left an even bigger one in my life. She was a gift that I will always cherish in my memory. Her passage through the world has been a gift to mankind.