Opera is going in new and different directions, and Scotto went there first.
The career that has the longest gestation period must be that of an opera singer. While Ariana Grande was cranking out hits at age 19, operatic mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Deshong is considered a rising star because she’s younger than 40.
There have been reams written about the necessity of operatic development: the master classes the competitions, the internships — in fact, the cost of it all, which led one frustrated soprano to pen a piece for The Billfold online titled “I Could Have Been a Great Opera Singer, If I Were Rich.” (https://thebillfold.com/icould-have-been-a-great-opera-singer-if-i-were-rich-1428c732f592#.bjv2fi7nm)
This is where Naples comes in. Not that the maiden Opera Naples Scotto Opera Program (https://operanaples.org/renata-scotto-opera-program/) coming here in January is a salve to the wallet: The application alone, in line with others around the world, is $40. Further, singers must audition live for acceptance, and tuition for just one of its two-week increments is $850.
But this program is offering an unmatched opportunity: personal time with one of the genre’s groundbreaking sopranos, Renata Scotto. For those who don’t know her, a little history. This is the soprano who was called back 15 times by the notoriously critical audience of La Scala for the signature aria from “La Wally,” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIVgcKNdd1w) who sang at least 300 performances at the Metropolitan Opera and who was the soprano of choice for Columbia Records’ complete recordings of Puccini repertoire.
Scotto, who created some of the first televised editions of opera with Luciano Pavarotti (“Live at the Met,” 1977 on), knows more about the art than a roomful of people who have retired from it, and Opera Naples Artistic Director Ramón Tebar is beyond excited she has agreed to create her first American program in the art here.
“I just spent a week at my first commercial recording for a big label,” he said. That recording, with tenor Gregory Kunde, (he appears with Opera Naples May 8) was with the Orquestra Navarra in Spain for the giant Universal Music Group, which owns EMI, Deutsche Grammaphon, Virgin and others. “No one told me in college how to record, what you have to know. I didn’t know these things, so you have to learn the craft more or less by instinct.”
To have had some education would have been a godsend, he said: “Every recording is always different ,so there are little things that change and you have to know them.”
Scotto has dealt with recording dilemmas and more: hostile audiences, in front of whom she had to sing while hecklers called out for Maria Callas; no-second-take live productions beamed around the country or live
TV; onstage slights, such as a duet partner who wandered away from her during their scene. (No shrinking violet, Scotto was called on to pinch the tenor’s cheek in the next scene, and slapped him instead.)
Local audiences can get to learn some of her backstage insights, and a few secrets, too. Among the events planned are Jan. 20 and March 13 evenings with Scotto and her singers at the Wang Opera Center. (The students themselves will perform Jan. 25 and March 18.
“We thought of doing the usual master class, with the teacher seated there, but actually, I think that’s kind of boring. So we’re going to have three students, speaking with her, interviewing her about her life, interspersed with videos,” Tebar explained.
Scotto will also be the guest of honor the night before that at Opera Naples’ “An Evening in Monte Carlo” gala Jan. 20 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. But for the opera fan who wants to get a firsthand look at shaping voices and stage presence, there are auditor passes to the classes that are open during her program.
Scotto, said Tebar, is one of those stars who toughed through every situation possible. In her 80s now, she’s a veritable reference book for young singers.
“She stepped in for Maria Callas (during an illness). There’s no way you can know how to do this kind of thing except by being there, or learning from someone who has. This is one of a number of those things she knows,” he said. “And these kind of people aren’t teaching any more; Scotto is one of thefew people who teaches this.”
Tenor-turned baritone Placido Domingo is of equal status and has his own two programs, one in Europe and one in Los Angeles. But he’s not teaching them because of other obligations.
In fact, Domingo will be in Tebar’s home city of Valencia soon. “I’m conducting him in November next year in ‘Traviata.’ He’s still singing.”
For more information:
Opera Naples: 239-963-9050 or operanaples.org (https://operanaples.org)