While he maintained his Italian citizenship throughout his life, Gian Carlo Menotti is considered by many to be one of the most influential and innovative American opera composers of the 20th century. Born in Cadegliano, Italy, Menotti was the sixth of ten children. At the age of 7, he began composing songs under the guidance of his mother, a talented amateur musician. By the time he entered the Verdi Conservatory in Milan in 1923, he had already written two operas.
Following the death of his father, Menotti moved to the United States and enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he studied composition with the Italian violinist Rosario Scalero. While there, Menotti met the American composer Samuel Barber, becoming lifelong friends and companions. Though they were complete opposites in personality and upbringing, they not only collaborated musically, but lived together for 40 years.
After graduating with honors in 1933, Menotti began writing the libretto for a one-act comic opera, "Amelia al ballo" (Amelia Goes to the Ball). Premiered in English translation in 1937, the opera was such a success that, only a few days after its premier, the New York Metropolitan Opera accepted it for the following season, launching his professional career.
Other than "Amelia," Menotti composed only two other works in Italian, and his first English opera was a milestone in the history of the genre. Commissioned by NBC, "The Old Maid and the Thief" was the first opera composed expressly for radio broadcast, premiering in 1939. His first international success was the 1946 tragic opera "The Medium."
In 1951, Menotti collaborated with Italian cinematographer Enzo Serafin to direct a film version of "The Medium," which remains one of the finest examples of filmed opera to date. His next commission from NBC, "Amahl and the Night Visitors" (1951), was the first opera written expressly for American television. Menotti received the Pulitzer Prize for two of his operas: his first full-length opera "The Consul" (1950) and "The Saint of Bleecker Street" (1954).
In 1958, Menotti founded and directed the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. Devoted to the cultural collaboration of Europe and America, the Spoleto Festival has gone on to be one of the most popular festivals in Europe.
-- Arielle Basile