Renata Scotto was born in Savona. She made her operatic debut on Christmas Eve of 1952 at the age of 18 at the Teatro Nuovo in Milan as Violetta in La Traviata.
In 1953, Scotto auditioned at La Scala for the role of Walter in Catalani's La Wally with Renata Tebaldi and Mario Del Monaco. After her audition, one of the judges, the conductor Victor de Sabata, was heard to say, "Forget about the rest." La Wally opened on December 7, 1953 and Scotto was called back for fifteen curtain calls.
Scotto's major breakthrough came in 1957. In Edinburgh, La Scala had performed Bellini's La Sonnambula with Maria Callas as Amina. The production had been so successful that La Scala had decided to add another performance. Callas refused to participate. With two days notice, Scotto was hired to replace her. The performance was a great success and 23 year old Scotto became an international opera star.
Scotto had a broad repertoire including some forty-five roles. She is best known for her performances as Violetta in La Traviata, Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly, Mimi (and occasionally Musetta) in La Bohème, Lucia, Lady Macbeth, and Francesca in Francesca da Rimini. Only her assay of Norma in the mid 1980s was less than a great success; she was booed during the live broadcast from the Met.
In later years, she took on the roles of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier in 1992 and her Kundry in Parsifal in 1995.