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Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti dies at 95

Gian Carlo Menotti, who composed a pair of Pulitzer Prize-winning operas and founded arts festivals in the US and Italy, died at a hospital in Monaco.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2007 15:50 IST

Gian Carlo Menotti, who composed a pair of Pulitzer Prize-winning operas and founded arts festivals in the United States and Italy, died at a hospital in Monaco, his son said. He was 95.

"He died pretty peacefully and without any pain. He died in my arms," said Francis Menotti by telephone from Monte Carlo on Thursday.

The Italian composer won Pulitizers for a pair of the 20th century's more successful operas: "The Consul," which premiered in 1950 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 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-time classic "Amahl and the Night Visitors," which was broadcast by US television network NBC in 1951 and may have been the first opera written for television.

"Gian Carlo Menotti introduced a generation of Americans to opera" with the televised production, said Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. "He was one of America's greatest composers." The New York opera also staged the world premiere of Menotti's "The Island God" in 1942. Menotti also authored the libretto for "Vanessa," which was composed by Samuel Barber, and revised the libretto for Barber's "Antony and Cleopatra." In addition to working together, Barber and Menotti shared a house in Westchester, a New York suburb, for many years.

By 1976, The New York Times called Menotti the most-performed opera composer in the United States.

His Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, and Charleston, South Carolina, sought to bring together fresh creative forces in US and European culture. The tradition launched young artists into impressive careers.

Shirley Verrett in 1962 sang her first performance of Bizet's "Carmen"; Patrice Chereau in 1959 launched his opera career with a 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.

Although he had Italian citizenship, Menotti called himself an Italian-American.

Menotti said he was on the verge of giving up his direction of the cultural festivals several times, but stayed, saying in 1981 in Spoleto: "I feel like the sorcerer's apprentice I've started something and I don't know how to stop it."

In 1990, he said he wanted to quit the South Carolina event because he was being "treated like the clerk." And eventually in October 1993, he did leave the U.S. festival, after disagreements with the festival's board about financial and artistic control. Menotti who lived later in his life in Monaco and Scotland returned to the Spoleto festival every year to celebrate his birthday, including this past July.

On the 30th anniversary of Spoleto's founding, Menotti said in 1987: "I needed to feel that I was needed. Thirty years ago Spoleto was on the verge of bankruptcy. Now it's a flourishing town that owes its life to the festival." The three-week event brings nearly a half-million people to the town of 35,000.

Menotti was born July 7, 1911, in Cadegliano near Lake Maggiore and the Swiss border. He began composing songs at age 7, and wrote his first opera at 11.

Encouraged by his mother, he received formal musical training first 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. His later works included "The Old Maid and the Thief," "The Medium" and "The Telephone." 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. "I started Spoleto because I did not want to be the marginal person, the entertainer," Menotti said in 1981. "I wanted to have a community, to be part of a community."

First Published: Feb 03, 2007 15:50 IST