Friday, February 2, 2007

RIP Gian Carlo Menotti

ROME - Gian Carlo Menotti, who composed a pair of Pulitzer Prize-winning
operas and founded the Spoleto arts festivals in the United States and
Italy, died Thursday at a hospital in Monaco, his son said. He was 95.

"He died pretty peacefully and without any pain. He died in my arms," said
Francis Menotti by telephone from Monte Carlo.

The Italian composer won Pulitzers for a pair of the 20th century's more
successful operas: "The Consul," which premiered in 1950 in Philadelphia,
and "The Saint of Bleecker Street," which opened at New York's Broadway
Theater in 1954. "The Consul" also earned him the New York Drama Critics
Circle award as the best musical play of the year in 1954.

He also wrote the Christmas classic "Amahl and the Night Visitors" for NBC,
which was broadcast in 1951 and may have been the first opera written for
television. Menotti also authored the libretto for "Vanessa," which was
composed by Samuel Barber, and revised the libretto for Barber's "Antony and
Cleopatra." In addition to working together, Barner and Menotti shared a
house in Westchester, a New York suburb, for many years.

By 1976, The New York Times called Menotti the most-performed opera composer
in the United States.

His Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, and Spoleto Festival USA, of
Charleston, S.C., sought to bring together fresh creative forces in U.S. and
European culture. The tradition launched young artists into impressive
careers. Shirley Verrett sang her first performance of Bizet's "Carmen" in
Spoleto in 1962; in 1959, Patrice Chereau launched his opera career with a
much-praised production of Rossini's "L'Italiana in Algeri"; and Tennessee
Williams' "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" premiered in 1962. From
Spoleto's stages, dancers such as Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp went on to
shape the direction of contemporary dance.

Menotti said he was on the verge of giving up his direction of the cultural
festivals several times ‹ in 1990, he said he wanted to quit the South Carolina event because he was being "treated like the clerk."

He eventually did leave the U.S. festival, in October 1993, after a series
of bitter disagreements with the festival's board about financial and
artistic control.

But despite his frequent urges to leave, Menotti seemed always as engaged as
ever ‹ even more. "I feel like the sorcerer's apprentice ‹ I've started
something and I don't know how to stop it," Menotti said in 1981 in Spoleto.

For three weeks each summer, Spoleto, population 35,000, is visited by
nearly a half-million people. The festival also surrounded Menotti with the
"affection and warmth" that is "so important for our creative life," as he
put it.

"Many composers live in an ivory tower, composing for a small group of
aficionados. Here, I'm surrounded by the life of the festival," he said.

He once compared his work at the festival to making bread ‹ a hands-on
process requiring time and attention.

Despite the care, Menotti delighted in improvisation. Festival programs were
rarely set more than a year in advance and often saw last-minute changes,
giving the artistic programs freshness.

"Fate has blessed me," he told The New York Times in 2001. "But if there's
one thing I regret, it's this accursed festival. It's robbed too much of my
time from composition and from the chance to just be curious about life, art
and philosophy. Suddenly there's no time left, and it makes me feel

Born July 7, 1911, in Cadegliano near Lake Maggiore and the Swiss border, he
was the sixth child of Alfonso and Ines Menotti.

A boy wonder who began composing songs at age 7 and wrote his first opera at
11, Menotti was for a time the most decorated and sought-after composer of
his generation.

Encouraged by his mother, he received formal musical training in Italy and
the United States, studying at the Verdi Conservatory in Milan and later at
the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

His first mature opera, "Amelia Goes to the Ball," in 1937, earned
international recognition.

Many of his works written in the TV age lent themselves well to the medium.
Among his later operas were "The Old Maid and the Thief," "The Medium" and
"The Telephone.

Menotti also wrote music for ballet, orchestra and other productions, as
well as the librettos for all his operas. He also directed operas ‹ his own
and works of other composers.

Among his achievements in his later years was an ambitious staging of
"Parsifal" for the 1987 Spoleto program. He was also commissioned to write
an opera for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Reflecting about Spoleto's meaning during the 30th anniversary of the
festival's founding, Menotti said in 1987: "I needed to feel that I was
needed. Thirty years ago, Spoleto was on the verge of bankruptcy. Now it's a
flourishing town that owes its life to the festival."

Menotti, who lived in both Monaco and Scotland, returned to the Spoleto
festival every year to celebrate his birthday, including this past July.

Although he held Italian citizenship, Menotti called himself an

Said Menotti in 1981: "I started Spoleto because I did not want to be the
marginal person, the entertainer. I wanted to have a community, to be part
of a community."

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