Gian Carlo Menotti, who composed a pair of Pulitzer Prize-winning operas and founded the Spoleto arts festivals in the United States and...
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 Monaco hospital, said his adopted son Francis Menotti. He was 95.
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; authored the libretto for “Vanessa,” which was composed by Samuel Barber; and revised the libretto for Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra.”
By 1976, The New York Times called Mr. Menotti the most-performed opera composer in the United States.
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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 several impressive careers: Shirley Verrett sang her first performance of Bizet’s “Carmen” in Spoleto in 1962; in 1959, Patrice Chéreau began 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.
Mr. Menotti said he was on the verge of giving up his direction of the cultural festivals several times and did eventually 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, Mr. 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,” Mr. 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 surrounded Mr. 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 once compared his work at the festival to making bread — a hands-on process requiring time and attention.
But despite the care, Mr. 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.
Born July 7, 1911, in Cadegliano, Italy, Mr. Menotti 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, Mr. Menotti 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.
Mr. 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.
Mr. Menotti, who lived in both Monaco and Scotland, returned to the Spoleto festival every year to celebrate his birthday, including this past July.