gian carlo menotti interviews

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3 different interviews with composer g. c menotti


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    Composer Gian Carlo Menotti Three Conversations with Bruce Duffie Most of the interviews I have done over the years have been singular events. A few of my guests, however, have been willing and available to return to my microphone. Gian Carlo Menotti was gracious enough to speak with me on three occasions, and all of those conversations are presented here in the original sequence.

    The first of the three meetings took place on March 19, 1981, when Menotti was in Chicago to

    oversee, and (as we found out at the curtain calls when he removed his costume/disguise), to

    participate in a production of The Egg as given by the William Ferris Chorale at St. James

    Cathedral. Even though this meeting was to promote the performances, I had the foresight to ask

    not only about the specific event, but also to probe his mind about things related to other works

    and music in general. I was also contributing at the time to Wagner News, the publication of the

    Wagner Society of America, so Menotti's production of Tristan und Isolde was of interest, hence my

    inquiry into that unlikely topic.

    Bruce Duffie. Would you tell us a little bit about The Egg?

    Gian Carlo Menotti. Im not going to tell you anything about The Egg because I feel that the

    audience should come and find out for themselves what its all about. What I can tell you, it was

    written for a cathedral, for the Washington Cathedral, and it is aimed at Easter, although it can be

    done at any time. Thats why we have the egg. But what the egg symbolizes and why it is

    called The Egg and what its all about, that you have to go and find out for yourself.

    BD. Is there any relationship between the kind of work The Egg is and the Canticles that Benjamin

    Britten wrote?

    GCM. No. Its a completely different kind of work.

    BD. You have composed a great many operas which are done all over the world. Would you tell

    us a little bit about your feelings of the role of the composer in contemporary life, or the composer

    specifically for opera?

    GCM. You asked me a very difficult question. I feel that the composer has always been - I

    shouldnt even say the composer; I think the artist in general, especially in America - has been

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    always on the margin of society. We are supposed to entertain people rather than really be part

    of their daily life.

    BD. Is it the public that feels you are supposed to entertain us?

    GCM. Im afraid so. You always say, What are we going to do this evening? Generally art

    comes after dinner when youve had a few cocktails and youve had your dinner, then you go to

    the theater or you go to the opera or you go to see a painting show because then youre also going

    to get a cocktail at that time. You go to an opening and you look at the other ladies. It is always

    sort of a social function. In a certain way, I would say that we are the after-dinner mint of society

    rather than being the bread of society. Actually, I think it is very important that people, even

    business people, should realize that, first of all, they use us all the time, from morning until night.

    They get up in the morning, they go to take a shower and they whistle a tune, and who wrote that

    tune? A composer. They choose a necktie. Who designed that necktie? Somebody who studied

    even minor art. I mean, its not art, but still it is somebody who studied art. They go into their

    very modern office which was designed by an architect who has seen the paintings of Mondrian,

    certainly, and so on. And his wife has to choose a dress, and who has designed the dress? It is an

    artist, whose pencil they used. Practically everything that we touch or use in modern life has some

    connection with art. And I think that is very important that people should realize how much they

    need art in their life.

    BD. We take it too much for granted, then.

    GCM. Yes, and people dont even know that they are using something that has been designed by

    the artist, that actually they are in the hands of artists. Their club, their silverware, the place they

    are eating from. Even if they are commercial artists, still they are designed by artists. But more

    than that, I feel that the serious artist, himself, has to find a more creative place in modern

    society. Thats why I founded my festival in Spoleto in Italy. As I said, I want to be the bread of the

    community. I want to be part of the community. So I looked for a small town that was on the

    verge of bankruptcy, a very poor town. It just happened to have two gorgeous theaters. I went

    there and I tried to help this town with my music and with the help of my fellow artists. It is quite

    touching to see how artists who come to Spoleto feel the dignity of being necessary to the life of

    the town. Its marvelous to feel wanted.

    BD. And then the people who come to Spoleto come for the festival, and that is their bread, as

    you say.

    GCM. And they bring the bread to the city. For me, that is what I enjoy most, when I feel that Im

    needed and Im not only there. If you really think about the audiences you get at the Metropolitan

    or at Salzburg or at Covent Garden, theyre all the same old faces. They change dresses or they

    change the speech, but its a very small part of the world. Thats why when people talk about

    opera, opera for me is not only what it given at the Metropolitan but what is given in the school, in

    colleges, in hospitals. Wherever an action is sung, that is opera, and thats why I love to do

    something like The Egg, because that is done in a church. Still it is an opera.

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    BD. Many of the things that you have written are on a little smaller scale and can travel around to

    different kinds of communities, different kinds of theaters, and in many cases can be done by

    amateurs very well.

    GCM. Yes. I must say that perhaps the most moving performance I heard of Amahl and the Night

    Visitors was in a hospital for children, in a ward where there were children, and it was so moving

    to see. It was also performed by a troupe of amateurs, but I cried all through it.

    BD. It was a very moving time because of where it was and why it was.

    GCM. Of course.

    BD. So, then, you feel that everything that interacts with people in their daily lives should interact

    with their reaction to the arts.

    GCM. Of course. Ive maintained that for a long time. For me, art must be an act of love. It

    cannot be just masturbation. It has to have something to give. It must speak to somebody. Its

    very interesting that most artists feel that need of communicating with somebody. I feel that art

    for its own sake is an illusion. Theres a marvelous essay by Jean-Paul Sartre on literature or art in

    general, in which he maintains that for a work of art to really exist, it must have the creative

    cooperation of the person who receives it. A book doesnt exist unless it is read, and it only exists

    in relation to the person who is reading it. The same thing with music: Music only exists in not

    only my ear, but I need your ear to make it work. So actually the audience also is part of the work

    of art.

    BD. How does this jibe, then, in the electronic age, where we have disks that produce sound and

    tapes that produce video. Is this going to change opera in such a way that we can now dictate

    when we watch and listen to the opera? And is this a good step for the opera, then, rather than

    going after a long, hard day at the office?

    GCM. It is perhaps too early to tell. I find it extraordinary that all this radio and all this canned

    music hasnt killed music yet, which really shows how strong and how indestructible great art can

    be. I was a bit horrified at the beginning, when you get in an elevator and all of a sudden to hear a

    Mozart string quartet while I was going up to the thirteenth floor. But it is marvelous how, in a

    certain way, it doesnt really destroy the essence of music. You still want to hear a string quartet

    played by people and not only by the shadows that come out of a can.

    BD. As a composer, do you feel any more satisfaction knowing that when someone takes a disk

    off of his shelf and plays it, he may probably have more concentration and more being in tune with

    this performance than if he just was dragged to the opera that night?

    GCM. Yes, perhaps, but only for a while, because music cannot be frozen. As a matter of fact, I

    find it very harmful that people listen to recordings too much, and then they feel that is the only

    way that the work exists. Then theyre going to hear another performance and say: Oh, thats

    wrong. Thats not the way I like this symphony, because theyre using the same record and

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    hearing the same work always the same way with the same tempo. Actually, the music lives in

    time, and time changes. One day, one piece of music has to play maybe a little faster than another

    time; it all depends. Ive seen this with my own operas. It depends from the concentration, from

    the audience. For example, in The Medium, when I very much insist on certain very long silences,

    and then my singer asks me: Well, Mr. Menotti, how long should the silence be? I say, Why,

    you must feel it. Monday can be this long, and Tuesday you might it cut it in half. Tempo is the



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