A selective guide to arts commentaries in print and websites elsewhere.
Introduction to Broad Street Review, plus biographies and contact points for our editors and contributors.
See a list of coming appearances by BSR's writers.
Menotti Centenary concert at CurtisBY: Steve Cohen 02.08.2011
The late composer Gian-Carlo Menotti was so prolific, gregarious and commercial that serious music critics often dismissed his work. But the “best of Menotti” excerpts assembled for his Centenary concert sounded better than the original operas. What he needed, apparently, was a good curator.
Curtis Celebrates the Centenary of Gian Carlo Menotti. Danielle Orlando, curator and piano accompanist. February 4, 2011 at Field Hall, Curtis Institute, 1726 Locust St. (215) 893-5252 or www.curtis.edu.
Will the real Menotti please stand up?STEVE COHEN
The enduring presence of Gian-Carlo Menotti came full circle last week when the Curtis Institute of Music honored the 100th anniversary year of the composer’s birth with an all-Menotti vocal and instrumental concert.
Menotti came to Curtis as a student in 1928 and later taught composition there. In those years he was dark-haired, handsome and charming, a center of attention from young women and men alike. Years later, when he was in his 70s and running the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, he was still the most recognizable man in town, still elegant, still dark-haired and handsome. He gave frequent parties that were attended by socialites, artists and young people.
One of those young people, Danielle Orlando, worked with Menotti as artistic coordinator and coach for his operas, in addition to editing several of his compositions and performing with the festival. She curated the Curtis Centenary concert and accompanied the singers at the piano.
Even when Menotti returned to premiering his works in opera houses, he was derided as a composer who sought popularity, as if that were a crime. That was an era when serialism and similar contrivances were in vogue, and melody-centered composers like Bernstein and Menotti were disparaged by the avant-garde.
A TV commission
Uniquely, Menotti wrote his own original stories and librettos for all his operas. He also stage-directed most of them. His most-performed piece is the Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, commissioned for television by NBC in 1951. Another triumph came when he wrote the libretto to music by his close friend Samuel Barber for Vanessa, which premiered at the Met in 1958.
In subsequent years, Menotti wrote a huge number of works (26 operas) to diminishing praise. Perhaps his style simply was out of fashion, or perhaps his creativity was on the wane.
It’s perhaps telling that I enjoyed the excerpts at the Centenary concert more than any single production of a Menotti opera that I’ve seen. The selections were well chosen and the performers not only sang well but also inhabited the personalities of characters. They even threw in some stage business.
End of life songs
The big arias and duets were presented from The Medium, The Consul, The Saint of Bleecker Street and Goya. I got to hear Menotti’s The Last Savage for the first time since I saw its Met premiere in 1958. The vivacious and witty excerpts by seven Curtis singers sounded better than what I remembered from the original.
More unusual were two song cycles, Canti di Lontananza (1967), mainly about problems with love, presented dramatically by soprano Elizabeth Zharoff, and five songs from 1983 that dealt arrestingly with the end of life, sung by tenor Joshua Stewart. Both groups showcased personal and affecting songwriting that should be performed more often. I hope Orlando can assemble some additional Menotti songs and singers and record a CD of this neglected side of Menotti’s writing.
Cantilena e scherzo (1977) was a genial piece for a string quartet plus a harp, with lovely melodies at the start and finish, but the harp part seemed mostly conventional arpeggios.
Russian with klezmer overtones
Most surprising was a Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano from 1996, when Menotti was 85. Yiying Julia Li played a violin part of lovely lyricism that contrasted with a fast and quirky clarinet part, by Stanislav Chernyshev, that sounded 20th-Century Russian with a touch of klezmer.
These two instruments then came together with interlocking intricacies. Try to think of Puccini blending with Shostakovich. The piano part given to Michelle Cann was subservient but received precise collaborative execution. This was an amazing composition by a man or woman of any age.
Respond to this Article