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Menotti, Gian Carlo

(July 7, 1911 - February 1, 2007)

Gian Carlo Menotti was born in 1911 in Cadegliano Viconago, in the province of Varese, Italy, where his mother was his first music teacher. He went on to study at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milano, from 1923 to 1927, under Ettore Pozzoli. 
From there – thanks to a letter of recommendation from Arturo Toscanini – he moved on to study composition at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, under Rosario Scalero, where he gained expertise in ancient polyphony and counterpoint. It was in Philadelphia that he became friends with the composer Samuel Barber, for whom Menotti wrote the libretti for Vanessa and A Hand of Bridge. Menotti won critical acclaim for his opera buffa Amelia Goes to the Ballet, for which he also wrote the libretto, which premiered in Philadelphia in 1937.

In 1939 NBC commissioned Menotti to compose the first-ever opera for radio, entitled The Old Maid and the Thief – its fourteen scenes were aired in 1939, and beginning in 1941 it was performed in numerous theatrical productions.  
In 1943 Menotti moved to Mount Kisco, New York, and went on to become a well-known composer of operas. Among his many accolades, he received an American Academy of Arts Award in 1945, and in 1946 a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1945 the ballet Sebastian premiered in New York, with Menotti’s score, and his Concerto in F for Piano was performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

With works like The Medium and The Consul, which earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Musical Play of the Year in 1954, Menotti had clearly attained artistic maturity. The “conservationist” style of these works, which had influences the likes of Puccini, Mussorgsky, Debussy and Stravinsky, was marked by a free-flowing use of diverse musical languages, held together by composition techniques that proved fluid and eloquent, with immediate communicative impact. In 1951 NBC commissioned his Amahl and the Night Visitors, the first-ever opera composed for television, which gave birth to an all-new genre. By the late 1950s, Menotti’s works were being staged throughout Europe, where he garnered huge success. 

In 1968, Menotti’s one-act opera for children Help, Help, the Globolinks! was staged at the Staatsoper in Hamburg, Germany. In 1979 Juana la Loca, written for the soprano Beverly Sills, premiered in San Diego, California. In 1986, by request of Placido Domingo, Menotti composed the opera Goya.

Gian Carlo Menotti was a man of broad cultural horizons. In 1958 he founded the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy, with the goal of bringing together American and European sensibilities in a range of artistic expression that went beyond music. In 1977 he helped create the Spoleto initiative’s twin festival in Charleston, South Carolina, which he directed until 1993, when he was appointed director of the Opera di Roma, in Italy. 

Gian Carlo Menotti died in Monte Carlo on February 1, 2007.