Gian Carlo Menotti

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

Italian composer, director, librettist, pianist and teacher Gian Carlo Menotti was born on 7 July 1911 in Cadegliano. He 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 dei Due Mondi (Festival of Two Worlds). It was devoted to the cultural collaboration of Europe and America, inspired no doubt partly by Menotti's personal partnership with American composer Samuel Barber. 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'). 

Menotti passed the Italian festival on to his adopted son Francis, but after Gian Carlo's death in Monaco on 1 February 2007, aged 95, there were various legal wrangles about the future of the Italian festival, and Francis Menotti eventually had to give up attempting to reclaim it from a group of people including Italian film and theatre director Giorgio Ferrara.

A selection of articles about Gian Carlo Menotti

Spotlight. Largely Traditional - Keith Bramich listens to Christmas music recorded in 1975 in Atlanta, Georgia. '... an intriguing glimpse of the work of Robert Shaw and his Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus from nearly fifty years ago.'

Ensemble. Songs of the Distance - Giuseppe Pennisi describes how American music is back, alive and well at the Spoleto Festival

Ensemble. A Modern Thriller - Giuseppe Pennisi was at a performance in Rome of the Italian version of Gian Carlo Menotti's 'The Medium'

Ensemble. 'Proserpine' in Spoleto - An opera by Italian composer Silvia Colasanti, experienced by Giuseppe Pennisi

Ensemble. Challenging, Versatile and Unexpected - Roderic Dunnett visits Hungarian State Opera

Ensemble. Mystery and Drama - Benjamin Britten's chamber opera 'The Turn of the Screw' opens the 55th Spoleto Festival, reviewed by Giuseppe Pennisi

Ensemble. A Variety of Events - Giuseppe Pennisi reports on music for the Christmas and New Year period in Italy, for children and for those who love children

Ensemble. Special Musical Connections - Bill Newman attends a fundraising concert for the Raphael Sommer Foundation

Ensemble. Santa Fe, The City Different - Maria Nockin enjoys the summer opera fare in North America's oldest capital city

CD Spotlight. A Hint of Bitters - Music by William Ferris, heard by Howard Smith. 'Well worth investigating.'

Ensemble. Unmistakably American - William Bolcom's 'A View from the Bridge', heard by Giuseppe Pennisi

Ensemble. Growing Up - Hans Werner Henze's 'Pollicino' thrills children and adults in Florence, by Giuseppe Pennisi

Ensemble. Neatly Balanced - A City Lit music gala, enjoyed by Malcolm Miller

Ensemble. A Cross Section - Bill Newman comments on some recent concerts at London's Wigmore Hall

DVD Spotlight. A Rarity - Jonathan Dove's 'The Adventures of Pinocchio', reviewed by Howard Smith. '... considerable merits on display ...'

Ensemble. A New Dimension - Giuseppe Pennisi reports that chamber opera is alive and well

Highly Articulate - American dramatic soprano Christine Brewer talks to Robert Hugill

Record Box. Vibrant Presentation - A worthy memorial to William Ferris, reviewed by Patric Standford

The Designer Touch - Tonina Doráti and opera production, as explained to Bill Newman

Profile. Tête-à-Tête - Bill Newman talks to British pianist Mark Bebbington

Impulse and space - Richard Hickox talks to Bill Newman at the 2001 Spoleto Festival

Celebratory Parade - Bill Newman has been to the 2001 Spoleto Festival and reports on his impressions of the surroundings, local artists and international music-making. 1. Praeludium.

Maestro - The Menotti Interview, with Bill Newman (concluded from last week)

Maestro - The Menotti Interview, with Bill Newman

Menotti at Spoleto - Bill Newman pays a tail-end visit to the Italian festival's 42nd season