Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited
by Fred Flaxman

©2013 by Fred Flaxman

Program 220
"Gian Carlo Menotti"

excerpt from: Menotti: Sebastian, performed by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra conducted by Jonathan Sternberg [Pierian 0050, Track 2] [under the following]

Hello and welcome to another hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m Fred Flaxman. The next 60 minutes will be devoted to orchestral music by Gian Carlo Menotti, the Italian-American composer who is best known for his operas. We’ll listen to Menotti’s tuneful Violin Concerto and excerpts from his ballet Sebastian.

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But first I’d like to tell you a bit about the man behind the music. Menotti was born near Lake Maggiore and the Swiss border in northern Italy on July 7, 1911. He was the sixth of eight children. His father was a coffee merchant. Menotti began writing songs when he was seven years old, and at 11 wrote both the libretto and music for his first opera: The Death of Pierrot. He began his formal musical training at the Milan Conservatory in 1923.

When Menotti’s father died, his mother went to Colombia where she tried without success to salvage the family’s coffee business. She took Gian Carlo with her, and in 1928 enrolled him at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, after which she returned to Italy.

Fellow students at Curtis included Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber. Barber became Menotti’s lover and partner in life and in work, with Menotti writing the libretto for Barber’s most famous opera, Vanessa, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1958. After graduation from Curtis, Menotti and Barber bought a house together in Mount Krisco, New York, which they shared for over 40 years.

Menotti’s most successful works were composed in the 1940s and 50s. They include The Consul from 1950, which won both the Pulitzer Prize for Music and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Musical Play of the Year.  Menotti won a second Pulitzer Prize for his opera, The Saint of Bleecker Street, in 1955.

Menotti wrote his beloved Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, for NBC -- the first opera ever written for television in the United States. It first aired on Christmas Eve in 1951. The opera was such a success that the broadcasting of Amahl and the Night Visitors became an annual Christmas tradition. It remains the composer’s most popular work to this day.

Menotti: excerpt from Amahl and the Night Visitors performed by members of the Nashville Symphony Chorus and members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alastair Willis [Naxos 8.669019, track 7]

An excerpt from Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors from the 2008 Naxos recording with Ike Hawkersmith as Amahl and Kirsten Gunlogson as his mother. The Nashville Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Alastair Willis.

Although Menotti is best known for his operas, he has also written large-scale orchestral works; concertos for piano, violin, and double bass; cantatas, songs, chamber works,  and ballet music. His Violin Concerto was composed in 1952 for the violinist Efram Zimbalist, then head of the Curtis Institute of Music. Let’s hear it now from a 1998 Crystal Records compact disc with violinist Walter Verdehr and the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic conducted by Kirk Trevor.

Menotti: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, performed by violinist Walter Verdehr with the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic conducted by Kirk Trevor [Crystal Records CD514, Tracks 1-3]

Gian Carlo Menotti’s Violin Concerto. Violinist Walter Verdehr was the soloist with the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic conducted by Kirk Trevor.

You are listening to the orchestral music of Gian Carlo Menotti on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional 60-second break not included in the total timing of this program]

Gian Carlo Menotti’s ballet Sebastian was first performed in 1944. The scenario, as with many of Menotti’s works, is his own. A prince falls in love with a courtesan. The prince’s sisters want to break up the relationship. They plot to steal the veil of the courtesan in order to place it on a wax image of the courtesan, so they can use their witchcraft to inflict pain on her. But the sister’s slave, Sebastian, who also loves the courtesan, removes the wax image and replaces it with himself. As the sisters strike at the image, which is now Sebastian, his self-sacrifice breaks their spell and the prince and the courtesan are free to be together.

In this historic recording, Jonathan Sternberg conducts the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. I have chosen these excerpts from a 2013 Pierian Recording Society CD, which was made possible by a grant from the estate of David B. Mansfield.

Menotti: Sebastian, performed by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra  conducted by Jonathan Sternberg [Pierian 0050, tracks 1, 2, 4, 8, and 9.]

Excerpts from Sebastian by Gian-Carlo Menotti. Jonathan Sternberg conducted the Vienna State Opera Orchestra in this historic recording, re-issued by the nonprofit Pierian Recording Society in 2013. I thank Pierian for providing the CD.

That concludes this hour of Compact Discoveries, which I devoted to orchestral music by Gian-Carlo Menotti. I hope you enjoyed the music.

If you missed any of this program or would like to hear it again, go to on the internet, where you’ll find links to stream Compact Discoveries programs on demand without charge. You’ll also find information on every recording used in every program. This is program number 220. I’m Fred Flaxman. Thanks for listening!

ANNOUNCER (Tana Flaxman): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Book Publishers, offering Fred Flaxman’s Pinnacle-Award-winning, tongue-in-cheek memoir, Sixty Slices of Life… on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster, available in paperback and e-book formats at And by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, and by an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida.

Program Ends at 58:00