Gian Carlo Menotti

Gian Carlo Menotti was an Italian-American composer, famous for his many operas and librettos. Born in Italy, Menotti was the sixth of eight children born to Ines and Alfonso, a coffee merchant. Gian Carlo began writing songs when he was just seven years old, and completed his first opera (libretto and music) when he was eleven. In 1923, he began his formal training in music at the Milan Conservatory.

When Alfonso passed away, Ines Menotti attempted to salvage the family coffee business, and took Gian Carlo with her to Columbia. In 1928, she enrolled him at the Curtis Institute of Music, while she returned to Italy. He arrived at the school with a letter of introduction from Arturo Toscanini’s wife, and began studying composition with Rosario Scalero. His classmates included Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber, and Curtis was where he wrote his first adult opera with Italian text. In his lifetime, Gian Carlo would only write three operas in Italian, the rest in English.

Though he was considered an American composer, he always retained his Italian citizenship. As a student, Menotti spent a lot of his time with the Barber family in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Menotti grew extremely close to Barber, and the two became partners in life and work. When the young men graduated, they bought a house together in New York and shared it for more than forty years. Perhaps the duo’s most famous collaboration is the opera Vanessa, which combined Menotti’s libretto with Barber’s music, and premiered in 1958 at the Metropolitan Opera.

His infamous Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors was written in 1951 for NBC. Originally airing on Christmas Eve, it was the first opera ever written for television in America, and received such success that it has become an annual Christmas tradition and remains Menotti’s most performed work.

The Festival of Two Worlds was founded by Menotti in Spoleto, Italy, in the summer of 1958. For three weeks each summer, the Festival is held to bring opera to a larger audience and has in turn, launched the successful careers of several musicians, choreographers, and singers. Nearly half a million people visit the event each year, and Menotti expanded to include a companion festival in Charleston, South Carolina in 1977. He continued to manage the American festival until 1993, when he began working with the Rome Opera. Notably, Menotti was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor for achievement in the arts in 1984, and was chosen as Musical America’s “Musician of the Year” in 1991.

Menotti died on February 1, 2007, at the age of 95 in a hospital. The Festival of Two Worlds celebrated its 50th anniversary that same year, and it was dedicated in his memory, having been organized by his son.

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