Gian Carlo Menotti
Part 2: Spoleto and the Festival
Menotti began to dream of a festival which would celebrate music, theatre, dance of two countries, Italy and America, the Festival de Due Mondi, bringing together the best of the modern and classical worlds. It runs during the last week of June and the first two weeks of July each year. His reasons for founding Spoleto he says are "all tied up with my feelings of guilt and wanting to be useful to society. I am intrigued by the role of the artist. I looked for a place that needed me."
Today Spoleto is a stunning hill top town with its imposing fortress, La Rocca, dominating the beautiful lush Umbrian landscape in this green heart of Italy. An hour's drive from Rome, through verdant forested hillsides, terraced vineyards and fields of bright sunflowers will lead you to one of Italy's best kept secrets. It has a timeless, elegant charm, with its steep narrow streets, art galleries, miniature theatres, the breathtaking cathedral, the Duomo, seen best by moonlight, while sitting with a nightcap outside the Tric-Trac café.
"The festival has no artistic aim", confesses the Maestro, "I just invite the people I admire to come - everything just comes together. I like improvisation." Even at almost 90, Menotti is charming and gregarious, looking and working like a man at least twenty years younger. He sustains the energy and passion required to plan an arts festival of international acclaim, and although he has passed on the mantle of Artistic Director to his son, Francis, he is still very much at the helm, selecting the programme, performers and often directing an opera himself. He finds it difficult to let go - the Spoleto Festival is his creation, his lifeblood.
The festival has always had the policy of inviting young, talented musicians, dancers and actors to be given a professional platform to perform. In the early years the unknown Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn came to dance ; there were debut performances by Jacqueline du Pre, Jessye Norman, and Yo Yo Ma, early work by Pina Bausch, Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter, an exhibition by Andy Warhol, Henry Moore designed opera sets, Ezra Pound and Alan Ginsberg read poetry; Placido Domingo sang.
The Maestro of Spoleto"Spoleto is the most romantic city I ever saw" remarked the poet Shelley
And to this day it still has a magic, especially at Festival time, blending international youthful, cultural exuberance and classic music - from capacity midday chamber concerts, operas, contemporary dance, drama, films and on to late night alfresco jazz.
The mission and fundamental aim has always been to seek out and develop young talent. Christina Domas, star of Puccini's Suar Angelica a few years ago was immediately spotted by the world's opera houses. Jean Yves Thibaudet has long been a friend of the Festival, now an international concert pianist, but always returns to Spoleto to perform with and inspire the younger talented players.
Over the past two years the wonderful young violinist Jennifer Koh has enjoyed her international debut at Spoleto, while still studying. Other outstanding young musicians include Corey Cerovsek, Jeremy Denk and the Eroica Trio.
With respect to its founder, each year either a concerto, ballet score or an opera by Menotti is performed at Spoleto. A highly praised production of The Consul, under musical director, Richard Hickox, staged in 1999, was revived in Washington in December 2000.
Despite the comments of some of his harsher critics who describe Menotti's work as "melodic, lush and sub-Puccini", or "kitsch and soulless" this is counterbalanced by genuine support from the highest critical and musical circles. Placido Domingo asked him to write an opera for him, Goya, premiered in 1991. His highly individualistic, lyrical and melodic music continues to inspire. John Adams's opera, "I was looking at the Ceiling and then I saw the Sky" was described as a blend of Sondheim and Menotti.
"I think Menotti has an enormously important place in contemporary music. I greatly admire his integrity from his heart and he writes music which I think people want to hear and should recognise much more. I think his day will come and I think that day is fast approaching."
Mary Miller, English National Opera
The Spoleto Festival - 28th June to 15th July 2001
This year's Festival will be a very special occasion and will focus on the music of Gian Carlo Menotti in celebration of his 90th birthday.
There will be a gala concert featuring many of the performers who have come to the Spoleto Festival in the past in order for them to pay tribute to the Maestro. Artists include Placido Domingo, Renee Fleming, Luciano Pavarotti, and Jean -Yves Thibaudet. Together with the Spoleto Festival Orchestra and chorus there will be:
- A revival of Menotti's opera, "The Saint of Bleeker Street" directed by Gian Carlo Menotti, conducted by the Musical director, Richard Hickox.
- A symphony Concert of Menotti's Three Cantatas, and the Concerto for violin, to be performed by Jennifer Koh.
- There are daily chamber concerts at noon, a choral concert, featuring work by Tavener, Britten, Part and Menotti.
- A symphony concert featuring the work of Schumann, Dvorak, and Brahms.
- Dance performances by the Royal Danish Ballet, and the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
- There will be poetry recitals by James Fenton and Craig Raine, jazz concerts, traditional puppet shows, films, and many visual art exhibitions.
The full programme and information on the Spoleto Festival is available on their Web Site>.
Previous page > In Scotland and Italy > 1, 2.
Where else would you like to go in Scotland?
News & Views>
All Features Index>
Search This Site>
Scottish Pictorial Calendar>
Places to Visit>