Just as dance is more than movement, music is more than notes. In a world that often needs reminders of this, it is with gratitude that we met Renata Scotto's recital at the Kennedy Center last night. Even before she sang, the melody of her presence created a world of elegant beauty. And when she began singing Bellini's "Vaga luna, che inargente," there was no question of the excitement that lay ahead.
Bellini's songs lie sweetly between the virtuosity of Rossini and the delicacy of Chopin. With them, Scotto's restrained tones did not prepare us for what followed. In the cavatina from the final scene of "Il Pirata," the voice began in a disembodied, hollow recitative, full of legato and growing in fervor with a breathtaking messa di voce and almost unbearable passion.
Next, a set of "Five Pages from an Album" by Guiseppe Verdi was heard here for the first time. The songs are as yet unpublished, and Scotto brought them to life as exquisite vignettes, with breezy phrasing and abandon.
"I Pastori" by Pizzeti proved to be stylistic tour de force for Scotto, as she was called upon to almost whisper verses by D'Annunzio. Three songs by Respighi were lightly tossed with the careless ease of youth, floating high pianissimi in "Aumilieu de jardin." The diva then became a sensuous storyteller for Puccini's "Storiella d'amor" before singing an aria from "Le Villi." The phrase "no, non ti scordar di me," with its heavenly appoggiature and its lovely moood of innocence, was unforgettable.
The voice seemed to grow still brighter with the evening. It would have come as no surprise if Scotto had sung all of "Norma" after this, so secure was the voice. Instead she gave three encores. In "Over the Rainbow," Scotto can given the most heart-rending interpretation this side of Judy Garland -- even when, as here, she forgets most of the words. The other two encores were by Puccini.
It is in this repertory that Scotto's musical contributions will likely be best noted in history, for she has put the technique back into verismo while increasing its dramatic impact. There is elegance in her every portamento, musicality in her moves. Her "Vissi d'arte" last night was a revelation to those who do not think of Scotto as a her phrasing was only surpassed by the raw power of her voice. Closing with "Un bel di," she brought tears to many in the audience.