Opera Chic is reporting the death, at the age of ninety-five, of the composer Gian Carlo Menotti. He was a complex and inconsistent figure whose place in American opera history is nonetheless secure. The Medium, The Telephone, The Consul, and Amahl and the Night Visitors were huge phenomena in their day, holding audiences rapt on Broadway and via network television, and they remain part of the repertory of American opera houses today. Menotti's operas are, above all, pragmatic in their approach, using an eclectic assortment of styles to address various dramatic situations: Stravinskyan neoclassicism for the bustle of daily life, Puccinian melodies for the love scenes, Bergian dissonance for the tragedies, hymn tunes and folk melodies as appropriate. If they ultimately lack a really distinctive voice, they nonetheless hold the stage better than the works of many more intellectually celebrated figures. Virgil Thomson's review of The Medium is worth noting: "I have heard it three times and it never fails to hold me enthralled. Mr. Menotti's libretto and his music form a unit that is deeply touching and terrifying.... The play wrings every heartstring, and so does the music. I cannot conceive the whole work otherwise than as destined for a long and successful career." A 1950 Time cover story gives a sense of Menotti's celebrity at mid-century. Will Time mention his death?
Photo: Carl Van Vechten, Library of Congress.