'I am controversial because I speak the truth, and sometimes people think I should not do that," says Renata Scotto.
"But, after saying the truth, I also say something , and that also bothers people."
The Italian soprano, looking slim and considerably younger than her 51 years, pauses. Probably for effect--but one can't be sure; everything she does seems to be natural.
Then there follows a wide-ranging conversation touching down on Scotto's operatic roles, her teen-age children, her concert tours, her current tour (which reaches Royce Hall at UCLA tonight and Sunday), her recent autobiography, "More Than a Diva," and, as described in that book, the deterioration of the friendship with her longtime colleague and fellow Italian, tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
About the title of that book, Scotto says, "People have criticized it, saying, 'More than a diva, that's presumptuous.' They think I mean that 'more than a diva' is like a goddess. Not at all. What I mean is, I am more than a diva--I am a woman. And, after all, a working woman."
About the Pavarotti break, the soprano laments "I have lost a friend.
"We were so close--we were like brother and sister," Scotto says, with convincing sadness, recalling all the years the soprano from Savona and the tenor from Modena sang together, happily.
The rift occurred in the San Francisco Opera production of "La Gioconda," in 1978. The moment of conflict, when Pavarotti took a final--some say unscheduled--solo bow and Scotto retired to her dressing-room and uttered an Italian obscenity, was recorded on television.
That moment is also detailed in Scotto's autobiography, written in collaboration with journalist Octavio Roca, and published last October. The incident receives most of one chapter in the book--yet Pavarotti's name does not appear there. Not once. Instead, Scotto refers to her former friend only as "a certain tenor."
Without archness, but matter-of-factly, Scotto defends the omission.
"Why should I mention his name--everyone knows who he is," the soprano says, in the posh tranquillity of her suite at a quiet westside hotel. Asked why she also left Pavarotti's name out of the credits in the discography at the end of the book, she simply shrugs.
But, as her autobiography states a number of times, controversy is not something Scotto runs from.
The diva, who has often been criticized for extending her operatic gallery beyond what some consider her natural metier , then outlined one of her latest projects, working with an instrumental chamber ensemble.
"An old friend and record producer--he is dead now--suggested I record Respighi's 'Il Tramonto,' a cycle of songs based on Shelley. And he proposed I do it with the Tokyo Quartet," she explained.
"At first, I resisted. I thought, a quartet is too small--I need an orchestra. But, I studied the music, and was convinced. I met the Tokyo Quartet for the first time at the recording session (the record was released in 1983), and we felt wonderful about it.
"Then, we gave two concerts in New York, and have now given six others, in places like Florida, Toronto and Boston. Now, we are looking for more repertory to take on tour."
With the Respighi cycle--"It is only 16 minutes, so we needed something to put with it," Scotto acknowledges--the soprano has programmed a "Salve Regina" by Schubert. She will appear with the Tokyo Quartet in Royce Hall, Sunday at 8 p.m.
But first, there is Scotto's recital, with pianist Robert de Ceunynck, tonight at 8 in Royce Hall.
"Other singers specialize in the German or French song repertory," Scotto says. "I am singing a program entirely in Italian. But, no chestnuts."
Instead, this agenda will offer arias from Handel's "Rinaldo" and Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito," three songs of Rossini's "La Regata Veneziana," Wolf-Ferrari's eight-song cycle, "I Rispetti," and unfamiliar arias from the same composer's "Il Campiello," Puccini's "Le Villi" and Mascagni's "Zanetto."
The role of Vitellia in "Clemenza di Tito," brought Scotto back as a Mozartean when she assumed the role, for the first time, at the Metropolitan Opera in October. Now, Scotto says, she wants to do more Mozart.
"Maestro (James) Levine told me I had to do it, because it was perfect for me. Afterward, I thought so too. Now, I have in mind to sing Elvira in 'Don Giovanni,' next year in Italy. That is a role I sang only once, years ago. Also, the Countess, in 'Nozze di Figaro.'
The subject of her current roles at the Met--Francesca da Rimini in Zandonai's opera, this season and next, Madama Butterfly in 1986-87, for instance--brings up again the matter of Scotto's controversial position on the New York scene.
Recently, it has been reported, phone solicitors for the Met's Centennial Fund drive were given a tip sheet telling them how to answer criticism of the Met by prospective donors.
The tip sheet instructed the solicitors to answer those objecting to Renata Scotto by reassuring them that the soprano was singing in only one production in the coming season. Asked to respond, Scotto said she has been on tour and had not heard about it.