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 yesterday at a hospital in Monaco. He was 95.
“He died pretty peacefully and without any pain. He died in my arms,” his adopted son, Francis Menotti, said.
The composer’s winning operas were two of the 20th century’s most successful. “The Consul” premiered in 1950 in Philadelphia and “The Saint of Bleecker Street” opened at the Broadway Theater in New York in 1954. “The Consul” earned him the New York Drama Critics Circle award as best musical play of 1954.
Menotti also wrote for NBC the Christmas classic “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” which was broadcast in 1951 and may have been the first opera written for television. He wrote the libretto for “Vanessa,” composed by Samuel Barber, and revised the libretto for Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra.”
By 1976, The New York Times called Menotti the most-performed opera composer in the United States. He held Italian citizenship but lived in Westchester for many years and called himself an Italian-American.
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 young artists into impressive careers. Shirley Verrett sang her first performance of Bizet’s “Carmen” in Spoleto in 1962. In 1959, Patrice Chereau launched 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.
Dancers including Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp went from Spoleto’s stages to shape the direction of contemporary dance.
For three weeks each summer, Spoleto, Italy, population 35,000, is visited by nearly a half-million people. The festival also surrounded 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,” he said. “Here, I’m surrounded by the life of the festival.”
He left the South Carolina festival in October 1993 after a series of bitter disagreements with its board about financial and artistic control.
Born July 7, 1911, in Cadegliano, near Lake Maggiore and the Swiss border, he 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, he studied at the Verdi Conservatory in Milan and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.