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Gian Carlo Menotti

'Rare art ... tender and exquisite' - The New York Times

Italian composer, director, librettist, pianist and teacher Gian Carlo Menotti died in Monaco on 1 February 2007, aged 95.

Born on 7 July 1911 in Cadegliano, Menotti began to write songs at the age of seven, under the guidance of his mother. His first opera The Death of Pierrot came just four years later, and in 1923 he began formal studies at Milan's Verdi Conservatory. His father died, and his mother then took him to the USA, where he completed his studies at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music. At Curtis he met Samuel Barber, who became his partner, and Leonard Bernstein.

His first mature opera, Amelia Goes to the Ball (1937), was a success, and this led to a commission from the US National Broadcasting Company to write an opera for radio, The Old Maid and the Thief.

With a few exceptions, Menotti wrote the libretti, in English, for his many operas. These include The Medium, The Telephone and The Consul, which are all well-known.

Best-known of all, however (at least in the USA) is the one-act opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, commissioned by NBC and first performed in December 1951 at that company's studios in New York. It was the first opera composed specifically for TV and the first Christmas classic to become an annual TV tradition. It tells the wondrous tale of a poor and crippled shepherd boy who encounters the Three Kings of the Christian nativity story, on their journey to Bethlehem, and is healed when he gives his crutch as a present for the boy king. Menotti's story was inspired partly by his own miraculous childhood experience - he became lame as a young boy, but was cured after a blessing at the Holy Sanctuary of Sacro Monte.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for music twice - for The Consul (1950) and The Saint of Bleecker Street (1955). The music is traditionally crafted, tonal and conservative, and the colour, fun, poise and simplicity of Menotti's style is audible through most of the works. As well as opera and ballet there's much choral music, plus piano and violin concertos, a symphony, a Triplo Concerto a Tre and Muero porque no muero.

'I feel like the sorcerer's apprentice', Menotti said in 1981. 'I've started something and I don't know how to stop it'.

In 1958 he founded his own festival at Spoleto in Italy, The Festival of Two Worlds. It was devoted to the cultural collaboration of Europe and America, and has continued to thrive in the hands of Menotti's adopted son Francis. In 1977 a twin festival in Charleston, South Carolina, was founded, and Menotti led Spoleto USA until 1993, when he became director of the Rome Opera. A third festival at Melbourne, Australia, was started in 1986. Menotti continued to direct opera into his nineties, and divided his time between Monaco and an estate in Scotland (where the locals referred to him as 'Mr McNaughty').


Posted: 3 February 2007

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