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The Menotti interview, with BILL NEWMAN


<< Continued from last week

James Lock, Gian Carlo Menotti and Francis Menotti. Photo (c) 2000 Bill Newman

Between the ages of 13 and 17, Menotti studied at Milan University. Then Arturo Toscanini advised his mother to send him to America, and from 1928-34 he came under the wing of Rosario Scalero at the Curtis Institute. Here he met, and formed a lifelong friendship with Samuel Barber. 'Four or five years later, Barber was in Italy to meet my family and I wanted to show him Lake Maggiore. "Toscanini lives on that island", I pointed out. "Well, let's go and see him", he replied. His aunt, Louise Homer had sung with him. So, we rowed out - we were very young, he was 19 and I a very nervous 18 - got out when we reached the island, walked up to the villa and rang the bell. The butler answered the door: "What do you want?" I lost my courage and my nerve and asked to see Mrs. Toscanini, who knew my mother. He went away and came back: "I am sorry she is too busy, but the Maestro - he has nothing to do and would love to meet you!" We couldn't believe our luck. So we went into his study, sat down, and I reminded him about his commendation and Sam talked about his aunt appearing with him, and so on. He was extremely nice, and he asked me about Monteverdi. At that time he didn't know his music and had just discovered L'Incoronazione di Poppea and La Favola d'Orfeo. So I sat down at the piano and started playing, and he sang the love duets of Poppea. "Why don't you stay and have supper with us?" We had the camera there and caught him - they were always very jealous of those things, but were ok about it. After supper, Sam played him his Adagio for strings and Essay No.l.'

'Then he came to see The Medium and The Telephone on Broadway - 3 times! You know, they didn't understand, saying it's not opera because it was performed in a small theatre; it's not a play because people sing. We had a very small audience. My producer said "You know Toscanini, why don't you invite him?" Oh no, he never goes to the theatre. But knowing his character, and the operas he conducted where everyone knew from him what to do, I sent him a letter - I still have his reply. "Dear Maestro, I know you will not come, but I think it is my duty to invite you to my opera on Broadway... I quite understand if you are unable to come..." I got his letter back: "Carlo Menotti, why do you say I will not come? Of course I will come. Give me two tickets, and I will be there!" So, he came and all the papers next day read "Toscanini goes to Menotti on Broadway!" Then he called and said he wanted to come again - you can imagine, the news spread and by this time we had a huge audience. About three weeks later at our flat in New York, yet another call, late at night. "Who is it? My God! Toscanini! What does he want?......Hello, Maestro!" He wanted to come again, but "Menotti, I would like you, however, to do a favour for me. I have a girlfriend - she likes to call me up and I call her up. In the opera (The Telephone) will you change a few notes at the end where she sings the telephone number.."But Maestro, of course! "..and have her sing the number of my girlfriend?" He did not come with her, because it was her secret affair, and when it came to that point there was this scream in the audience: "Ahhh! It's mine!!" Toscanini loved it; and he came afterwards to the rehearsal of Amahl, a performance of The Consul. I saw him again a few weeks before he died at his home near New York....'

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Copyright © 5 September 2000 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK





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