Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007) is primarily known today for his Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951). However, on closer inspection, one realizes he is one of the twentieth century’s most influential composers. He made great contributions to Chamber Opera and introduced the form to new audiences through what was then the new mediums of television and radio. With his partner, Samuel Barber, he founded the Spoleto Festival of the 2 Worlds (1958). Menotti also wrote the libretto for Barber’s opera Antony and Cleopatra which opened the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966.
Menotti was born near Lake Lugano in Italy. His father was a businessman and his mother was an amateur musician. He began studies at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia in 1928. At Curtis he met fellow composer, Samuel Barber, and the two began a life-long relationship. His first major success came with Amelia al ballo (1937) known in English as Amelia Goes to the Ball. From then on, opera became a major part of his career. Along with Amahl and the Night Visitors written for television, he also wrote operas for the radio. A great example of this is The Old Maid and the Thief, commissioned by NBC in 1939.
Menotti expanded who could perform opera and also gave established artists ways to stretch their boundaries. Amahl can be performed by amateur singers, and Menotti’s opera Help, Help, the Globolinks!, about an alien invasion, is a 70-minute work written for children. In 1958, Menotti founded the Spoleto Festival of the 2 Worlds to create a place for artists across musical genres in America and Europe to come together and show the public what is new in the performing arts. The festival got its second home in Charleston, South Carolina as the Spoleto Festival USA in 1977. Additionally, Menotti worked with many of the twentieth century’s most famous singers. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf premiered his 1964 song cycle and Beverly Sills sang the lead in his opera about the Spanish Queen Juana La Loca.