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Guest DJ Renata Scotto: Opera, Risks, And Keeping It Real

Renata Scotto has retired from the stage, but she hasn't slowed down — she's now a director and costume designer.
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Renata Scotto has retired from the stage, but she hasn't slowed down — she's now a director and costume designer.

It seems Italian soprano Renata Scotto has been taking risks all her life. At age 12, she matter-of-factly declared that she would become an opera singer. At 18, she debuted in the treacherous lead role in Verdi's La Traviata.

Scotto has never looked back. Although retired from singing, she's still busy in the opera world teaching young singers and directing opera productions, even designing costumes.

The 77-year-old soprano is being honored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild Feb. 27, with a special "Met Legends" evening celebrating her career. To mark the event, I asked her to pick a few of her favorite opera recordings for an informal session of listening and conversation.

After decades of performing with the greatest singers — from Maria Callas to Luciano Pavarotti — Scotto's giddy enthusiasm for the music is undiminished. She's like a teenager falling in love with opera for the first time, passionate about today's singers — such as coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay and tenor Jonas Kaufmann — and devoted to greats of the past, like tenor Jussi Bjorling.

She's also candid about her own career, saying that she never let her sound overtake her interpretation. Scotto learned her craft from some of the very best. She witnessed the immense dedication it takes by interacting with Callas, and her vocal coach on her famous Madama Butterfly recording worked with Puccini himself.

"My career has always been as a risk-taker," Scotto says. "This is the way I am, I don't know how to explain."

Actually, she explains it rather well. Take a listen to an opera legend still on fire for her art.

Have a Renata Scotto story of your own? Tell us all about it in the comments section.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.