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Menotti, Gian Carlo

Gian Carlo Menotti

Composer

Moved to America

High Notes and Low Notes

Beloved Christinas Opera

Selected compositions

Sources

Even as a young child Gian Carlo Menotti displayed a natural ability to compose music, creating tunes to go with childrens poems by the age of five. Retaining this childlike sense of drama and playfulness through a lifetime of composing, Menotti has composed some of the most popular and recognized operas of the twentieth century. He brought opera to radio and television, introducing millions of viewers and listeners to it for the first time. He has received many awards for his work, and during the 2001-2002 season, his ninetieth birthday was celebrated in opera houses across the United States and throughout the world.

Menotti was born the sixth of eight children on July 7, 1911, in Cadegliano, Italy, near Lake Lugano. His father, with whom he had a distant relationship, was an import-export merchant dealing in Colombian coffee. His mother, Ines, an accomplished musician in her own right, had the greatest impact on his life. In the book Menotti: A Biography, written by John Gruen, Menotti said, My mother was an impulsive woman, and a very handsome one. She had a domineering personality, and many people in the town found her high-handed and a bit of a snob. I think my father was terrified of her. All of us children, however, adored her. She recognized and nurtured her sons talent, bringing instructors from Milan to teach Gian Carlo and his siblings piano, cello, and violin.

Menottis maternal grandfather had been a popular mayor of Cadegliano, and many relatives lived in the area. They often had large family gatherings, particularly in the summer, as Lake Lugano was a popular summer vacation area. On these occasions family members would entertain each other with chamber music nights and puppet shows complete with music and special effects. Menotti owned almost 100 puppets as a child and loved to put on fairy tale productions.

As he grew up, Gian Carlos talent was so remarkable that his family assumed he would become a musician. At age eleven he had already written his first opera, The Death of Pierrot In 1923 he began to attend the Verdi Conservatory of Music in Milan where he studied for three years. A family friend, the famous conductor and composer Arturo Toscanini, recommended that Menotti attend school in the United States at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His mother politely declined, not wanting to send her son so far away.

Moved to America

Everything changed, however, when Menottis father died. His mother, realizing the family business would no longer support them, remarried and moved to South Africa. Acting on Toscaninis suggestion, she finally arranged for Gian Carlo to attend the Curtis Institute; she also found an Italian-American family with whom he could live. At 16 Menotti moved across the ocean to

For the Record

Born on July 7, 1911, in Cadegliano, Italy; son of Alfonso (an import-export merchant) and Ines (Pellini) Menotti; children: adopted son Frances Chip Phelan. Education: Graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, PA, 1933.

Began composing music and learning the piano, violin, and cello, age five; wrote his first opera, age eleven; moved to the United States, 1928; achieved his first success with Amelia Goes to the Ball, 1937; composed the first opera written for radio, The Old Maid and the Thief, 1939; achieved international recognition with The Medium, 1946; composed the first opera written for television, Amahl and the Night Visitors, 1951; started the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, 1958; started the Festival of Two Worlds in Charleston, SC, 1977; composed Goya for Placido Domingo, 1986.

Awards: Guggenheim Award (fellowship), 1946-47; New York Drama Critics Award for The Consul, 1950; Pulitzer Prize in Music for The Consul, 1950, and The Saint ofBleeker Street, 1954; Kennedy Center Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, 1984; Musical America Musician of the Year, 1991.

Addresses: Home Yester House, Gifford, East Lothian, EH41 4JF, Scotland. Publisher G. Schirmer, 257 Park Ave. South, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10010, (212) 254-2013.

learn music in a country where he didnt even know the language.

At Curtis, Menotti began studying with Rosario Scalero, a composition instructor with whom he would train for six years. Scalero introduced Menotti to Samuel Barber, who agreed to help the new student adjust to American life. Because Menotti could not yet speak English, the two communicated in French. During their time at Curtis, they began a lifelong friendship, spending four consecutive summers in Menottis hometown of Cadegliano.

In 1933 Menotti graduated from Curtis with honors. He and Barber decided to move to Vienna, where they shared an apartment. Barber had left school early, but came back to finish his degree in 1934, and then began to achieve success in the United States. In May of 1936 they joined up again, traveling through Europe.

Menotti finished composing Amelia Goes to the Ball in the spring of 1937 and returned to the United States at the invitation of Mary Louise Curtis Bok, the founder of the Curtis Institute of Music. When she was requested to finance a presentation at the school, she refused unless Menottis new opera could be included. The performance took place on April 1, 1937. Amelia was dedicated to Mrs. Bok, towards whom I have so much to be grateful for, Menotti said in his biography. I have a very great fondness for it. Not only was it my first opera, and my first success, but it was also the only opera of mine that was ever heard by my mother. Mrs. Bok paid for his mother, who was already ailing, to come from South Africa to see it. Amelia was so successful that it was presented at the Metropolitan Opera of New York on March 3, 1938.

Shortly after the Metropolitan presentation, Menotti was invited to Rome by Dino Alfieri, the Italian minister of culture, to discuss the operas Italian premiere. At the time Italy was under the thumb of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Menotti was told that the presentation would be supported if he would become a member of the Fascist party. He refused, and the press was ordered to give poor reviews to the opera when it was presented. Menotti decided to concentrate on success in America instead.

In 1939 Samuel Chotzinoff of the National Brohadcasting Company (NBC) commissioned him to write an opera specifically for radio. The Old Maid and The Thief premiered on April 22, 1939, to favorable reviews. It was considered a great achievement in radio, broad-casting opera to audiences that may not otherwise have been exposed to it.

High Notes and Low Notes

Menottis popularity launched him into high society and the company of many rich and famous people. He enjoyed the lifestyle and gained a reputation for being an entertaining and charming guest. Everything changed, however, with the failure of his third opera, The Island God. Trying to impress the critics by presenting a serious opera, he disappointed his audiences, who were expecting lighter fare. He suddenly found he was no longer receiving invitations to parties and social gatherings. Worse, he was unable to find work and was running out of money.

After struggling in New York, Barber and Menotti were helped by their longtime supporter, Mary Louise Curtis Bok (now Mrs. Efrem Zimbalist), who gave them the money to buy a house in which they could work. They moved into the house, called Capricorn, in the summer of 1943. They worked on compositions during the week, but on the weekends, Capricorn became a hot spot for social gatherings.

In 1944 Menotti agreed to write the music for a ballet called Sebastian. He was quite pleased with his own work, but frustrated by the lack of effort put in by the choreographer. The experience prompted him to insist on greater control over future productions. He would not only compose the music and write the lyrics, but also take on the role of stage director and casting director. His sense of playfulness also found him playing bit parts in some of the productions.

His next big success, The Medium, brought him even greater fame. Performed originally on May 8, 1946, it was joined the following year by another of Menottis pieces, The Telephone. The two ran as a double bill on Broadway for seven months, playing to small audiences despite positive reviews. Menotti then wrote a letter to the man who first recommended that he study music in the United States, Arturo Toscanini, inviting him to attend. When Toscanini agreed, Menotti leaked it to the press. After that, there was no longer any trouble selling the seats. When it closed on Broadway, the production was taken to Paris and London, where Menotti finally achieved international success. A few years later, it was made into a film in Rome.

In 1950 Menotti opened his three-act opera The Consul in Philadelphia. Immediately hailed by the critics, it won the Drama Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize. It also ran on Broadway for eight months.

Beloved Christinas Opera

In 1951 Menotti was approached again by NBC, this time to provide a Christmas opera for television. Amahl and the Night Visitors, which premiered on Christmas Eve 1951, became his best-known work and was shown on NBC during the Christmas season for 16 years. It was also performed onstage, and by 1972 the Central Opera Services Directory listed it as the most-performed opera in the United States.

In 1958 Menotti started the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, to celebrate the cultural collaboration of the arts in Europe and the United States. The Festival, presented each year, became so successful that another festival was started in Charleston, South Carolina in 1977. In the mid-1960s Menotti began working frequently with Francis Phelan, a troubled young actor and figure skater. Phelan began to appear in many of Menottis performances. In 1974 Menotti lega adopted Phelan, whom he called Chip, as his son.

Menotti received the Kennedy Center Honor for Life-time Achievement in the Arts in 1984. Two years later he was commissioned by Placido Domingo to write Goya, which Domingo performed with the Washington Opera at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. In 1991, at 80 years old, he was named Musician of the Year by Musical America.

Although he has retained his Italian citizenship, Menotti has spent most of his life in the United States. He now resides in Scotland at his manor, Yester House, with his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. His son has taken over most of the responsibilities of running the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, but Menotti remains actively involved.

Selected compositions

Pastorale for Pianos and Strings, 1934.

Amelia Goes to the Ball, 1937.

The Old Maid and the Thief, 1939.

The Telephone, 1946.

The Medium, 1946.

The Consul, 1950.

Amahl and the Night Visitors, 1951.

Apocalypse (symphonic poem), 1951.

The Saint of Sleeker Street, 1954.

The Unicom, the Gorgon and the Manticore (ballet), 1956.

Maria Golovin, 1958.

Le dernier sauvage, 1963.

Martins Lie, 1964.

Help, Help, the Globolink!, 1968.

The Most Important Man, 1971.

Tamu-Tamu, 1973.

Symphony no. 1 in A minor, The Halcyon, 1976.

The Hero, 1976.

La loca, 1979.

A Bride from Pluto, 1982.

Goya, 1986.

The Wedding, 1988.

Sources

Books

Gruen, John, Menotti: A Biography, MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1978.

International Whos Who, Europa Publications LTD, 1999.

Periodicals

Opera News, May 1994, p. 10.

Online

Gian Carlo Menotti, G. Schirmer, Inc., http://www.schirmer.com/composers/menotti/bio.html (February 5, 2002). Gian Carlo Menotti: Renaissance Man of the Theater, G.

Schirmer, Inc., http://www.schirmer.com/composers/menotti/essay.html (February 5, 2002).

Sarah Parkin

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Gian Carlo Menotti

Gian Carlo Menotti

Gian Carlo Menotti (born 1911), Italian-born American composer, wrote highly melodramatic operas that mixed lyricism with atonality.

Gian Carlo Menotti, born in Cadegliano, Italy, to Alfonso and Ines (Pellini) Menotti, was brought up in a musical atmosphere and started composing as a child. He studied at the Milan Conservatory from 1923 to 1927 then came to the United States in 1928. In 1933 he finished his musical education at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where in 1936 his comic opera Amelia Goes to the Ball was first produced. Commissioned by the National Broadcasting Company for a radio opera, he produced the humorous The Old Maid and the Thief (1939). In this work certain characteristics of Menotti's mature style began to appear. His effortless method of transforming the natural inflections of ordinary conversation into musical lines that remain in the memory was quite remarkable.

After the failure of his next opera Menotti turned away from the stage for a few years, but on a Guggenheim fellowship in 1946 he wrote what became his most successful work, The Medium. It set a precedent in the history of American opera by running on Broadway, coupled with a short curtain raiser, The Telephone. In 1951 the composer directed a motion picture version of the work.

Menotti's next operas never quite sustained the excitement generated by The Medium, even though The Consul (1950), which also ran on Broadway, received a Pulitzer Prize, and The Saint of Bleecker Street (1951) won several awards. Menotti always wrote his own librettos and preferred excessively melodramatic scenes. While ideal for a work like The Medium (essentially a ghost story), heavy melodrama seemed out of place in the later works, which professed to have serious social content. Musically, however, they offered some striking lyric passages.

The Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, written for television in 1951, was highly successful. Its simple charm has made it a perennial favorite during the holiday season. Menotti took a stand against avant-garde music in the fantasy opera Help, Help, the Globolinks! (1968), where the invading globolinks, representing extremist musical tendencies, are destroyed. In The Most Important Man (1971), with its heavy emphasis on melodrama and social significance, Menotti returned to the approach used in The Consul and The Saint of Bleecker Street. His musical style remained unchanged, relying on a natural sense of lyricism interspersed with more dissonant passages as the plot demanded.

Though known for his operatic works of the 1940s and 50s, Menotti also has composed lively orchestral music, including Piano Concerto in F (1945) and Violin Concerto (1952), as well as the ballet Sebastian (1944).

In addition to composing, Menotti was active in a number of related activities. He taught at the Curtis Institute of Music from 1941 to 1945, and in 1958 he established the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, which was expanded in 1977 to include Charleston, South Carolina. He was also an excellent stage director, and one of his most remarkable gifts was in casting his operas. He had an almost magical sense of getting the right performer for each part; as a result, many singers appearing in his works became identified with these roles throughout their performing careers. In 1992 Menotti was named artistic director of the Rome Opera and headed two seasons. After numerous problems stemming from reported financial mismanagement by the top administrator, Menotti did not return in 1994. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Kennedy Center award, 1984, and the New York City Mayor's Liberty award, 1987.

Further Reading

Information on Menotti's life and work is in Joseph Machlis, Introduction to Contemporary Music (1961), and more extensively in David Ewen, ed., Composers since 1900 (1969). Also see Contemporary Composers (1992). □

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Menotti, Gian Carlo 1911-2007

Menotti, Gian Carlo 1911-2007

OBITUARY NOTICE—

See index for SATA sketch: Born July 7, 1911, in Cadegliano, Italy; died February 1, 2007, in Monaco. Menotti was a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer of operas popular on Broadway and on television and radio, including The Consul, Amahl and the Night Visitors, and The Saint of Bleecker Street. The son of a coffee merchant, he was taught by his mother to play the violin, piano, and cello. The young Menotti proved very capable and even composed his own opera, The Death of Pierrot, when he was just eleven years old. After his father died in 1928, Menotti's mother took her son to Philadelphia and enrolled him at the Curtis Institute of Music. Though he did not speak English at the time, his letter of recommendation from Arturo Toscanini easily impressed the school. He graduated in 1933, then moved to Vienna, Austria, where he had a home with fellow composer Samuel Barber. Menotti's first opera to be performed was Amelia Goes to the Ball. It was produced in Philadelphia in 1937 and at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1938. Next, he notably composed the first opera written expressly for the radio, The Old Maid and the Thief (1939), which was also produced on the stage two years later. Menotti's The Island God (1942) was panned by critics, but the composer felt the problem was with staging, and so he thereafter insisted he be allowed to have a say on how his operas were produced. When the United States entered World War II, Menotti offered his services to the Office of War Information, and became a broadcaster for Italian-language radio. After the war, Menotti was a part-time composition teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music for several years and briefly worked as a script writer for Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. He continued to write operas, such as The Medium (1946), which he adapted himself to film, and The Consul (1950), which earned him his first Pulitzer. His The Saint of Bleecker Street (1955) also won a Pulitzer, as well as a Drama Critics' Circle Award, even though it proved unpopular with audiences. One of Menotti's greatest popular operas, Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951), was written for television and became a standard Christmas season program. Known for creating romantic melodies that reminded many theater reviewers of the works of Puccini, Menotti was a traditionalist. Thus, when a modern movement to create experimental, atonal works began in the 1960s, he was increasingly criticized for lack of innovation. The composer, nevertheless, refused to cater to critics; he did very well financially because of income from television rights to his operas. He continued to compose, too, though a number of critics consider his later works to be minor achievements. Among these are The Egg (1976), Juana, la Loca (1979), Goya (1986), and Giorino di Nozze (1988). He also composed many symphonies, chamber music, and vocal/choral works. Among his other accomplishments, Menotti was composer and artistic director of the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, and cofounder of the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, which he helped run from 1958 until 1999, when he turned it over to his adopted son, Francis Phelan.

OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:

BOOKS

Contemporary Composers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Contemporary Musicians, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.

PERIODICALS

Chicago Tribune, February 2, 2007, section 1, p. 14.

New York Times, February 2, 2007, p. C11.

Times (London, England), February 3, 2007, p. 68.

Washington Post, February 2, 2007, p. B7.

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Menotti, Gian Carlo

Menotti, Gian Carlo (b Cadegliano, It., 1911). It.-born composer, librettist, and conductor, mainly resident in USA and Scotland. Taught at Curtis Inst. 1948–55. Formed lifelong friendship with the composer Samuel Barber. His tendency as composer was always towards opera and his first adult essay, Amelia Goes to the Ball, was cond. by Reiner in 1937 and later at NY Met. As with all his operas, he wrote his own lib. First outstanding success was in 1946 with The Medium, but this was eclipsed in 1950 by The Consul, dealing with the plight of refugees at the mercy of heartless bureaucracy. Amahl and the Night Visitors was the first opera to be written for TV in America. His works have achieved considerable popularity and his intention to bring opera nearer to the Broadway theatregoer has been achieved if at some cost in originality of expression. But of his dramatic effectiveness and melodic gift there can be no doubt. Founded Fest. of Two Worlds at Spoleto, It. and Charleston, USA, 1958. Wrote lib. for Barber's operas Vanessa (1957) and A Hand of Bridge (1958). Prod. Vanessa (Salzburg 1958). Works incl.:OPERAS: Amelia Goes to the Ball (Amelia al Ballo) (1934–7); The Old Maid and the Thief (1939); The Island God (1942, withdrawn); The Medium (1945); The Telephone (1946); The Consul (1949); Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951, TV); The Saint of Bleecker Street (1954); Maria Golovin (1958); The Last Savage (1963); The Labyrinth (TV, 1963); Martin's Lie (1964); Help! Help! the Globolinks (1968, children); The Most Important Man (1971); Tamu-Tamu (1973); The Hero (1976); The Egg (1976); The Trial of the Gipsy (1978); Chip and his Dog (1978); La Loca (1979); A Bride from Pluto (1981–2); The Boy Who Grew Too Fast (1982); Goya (1986); The Wedding (1988).BALLETS: Sebastian (1944); Errand into the Maze (1947); The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore (1956).ORCH.: pf. conc. No.1 (1945), No.2 (1982); Apocalypse, sym.-poem (1951); vn. conc. (1952); triple conc. a tre (1970); Halcyon Symphony (1976); db. conc. (1983).VOCAL: The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi (1963); Landscapes and Remembrances (1976); Nocturne, sop., str. qt., hp. (1982); For the Death of Orpheus, ten., ch., orch. (1990).

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Menotti, Gian-Carlo

Gian-Carlo Menotti (jän´-kär´lō mānôt´tē), 1911–2007, Italian composer. Menotti was taught music by his mother and composed his first opera at 10. He studied at the Verdi Conservatory, Milan, and the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, where he later taught. Much of his life was spent in the United States. Enormously successful in the mid-20th cent. as a composer of operas, he wrote his own librettos—all in English except Amelia al Ballo (1937; tr. Amelia Goes to the Ball)—and usually directed his own productions. In 1946 his melodrama The Medium had unprecedented success with Broadway audiences.

Menotti's major works include The Old Maid and the Thief (1939) and Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951), the former written for radio broadcast, the latter for television; The Telephone (1947); The Consul (1950); The Saint of Bleecker Street (1954; Pulitzer Prize); Maria Golovin (1958); Labyrinth (1963), a short opera; Martin's Lie (1964); and Tamu-Tamu (1973). His 25 operas are celebrated for their powerful dramatic impact, use of language, and polytonality, although they are also frequently criticized for their sentimentality and stylistic conservatism. He also wrote numerous pieces of choral, instrumental, and chamber music.

Menotti established the Festival of Two Worlds at Spoleto, Italy, in 1958 and directed it for about 40 years. In 1977 he initiated the Spoleto Festival U.S.A., in Charleston, S.C., heading that festival until 1993. That year he was appointed artistic director of the Rome Opera, but after disputes with the opera leadership he was dismissed in 1994.

See biography by J. Gruen (1978) and D. L. Hixon, Gian Carlo Menotti: A Bio-Bibliography (2000); study by M. I. Casmus (1962); L. Grieb, ed., The Operas of Gian Carlo Menotti, 1937–1972: A Selective Bibliography (1974); K. Wlaschin, Gian Carlo Menotti on Screen: Opera, Dance, and Choral Works on Film, Television, and Video (1999).

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Menotti, Gian Carlo

Menotti, Gian Carlo (1911– ) US composer, b. Italy. His operas, in modern opera buffa style, have been most successful and include The Telephone (1947). Menotti has also composed operas specifically for television such as Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951) and Labyrinth (1963).

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