Coming on only three days' notice, Renata Scotto sang in place of Jose' Carreras last night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall and gave the best recital this listener remembers hearing from her.
A summer's rest apparently alleviated some of the vocal problems she suffered from last year, and the music on her program was considerably more substantial than the fare some have complained about in the past.
The delightful little Rossini and Respighi gems that she has regularly featured were balanced with such substantial works as Countess Almaviva's "Porgi amor" from Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" and Liszt's broad, poignant settings of three Petrarch sonnets.
The big question always asked about an aging diva like Scotto, particularly after last season's misbegotten "Norma," concerns the voice. That high wobble is under better control than in some time and the hard, unresonant high notes heard last spring in "Norma" on the Met tour were not in evidence. In the toughest work on the program, Elisabeth's noble "Tu che le vanita" from Verdi's "Don Carlos," Scotto sounded very much her old self. At that point, what had been a rather cool concert took fire.
The Liszt came right after intermission. Scotto reveled in Liszt's glorious melodies, which she shaded with imagination. Then, for contrast, came Respighi's charming, ironic songs, "Deita silvane," for which she is justly famous.
Finally, there were two of the lesser-known verismo arias, which Scotto does better than any other soprano, with her sure grasp of the style and her rich, resonant tones. They were by Mascagni, from the seldom-performed "Zanetto" and "Nerone." She brought the audience to its feet when she encored one of the most famous and despairing of all verismo arias, "Sola, perduta, abbandonata" from Puccini's "Manon Lescaut." It was stirring indeed.