gian carlo menotti interviews
Post on 27-Jan-2016
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DESCRIPTION3 different interviews with composer g. c menotti
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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