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Gian-Carlo Menotti was born in Italy in 1911, the sixth of ten children. He showed early musical talent and began studying at the Milan Conservatory when only 13. In 1928, when he was 17, he came to the US to study at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute, recommended by a family friend, Arturo Toscanini. He made friends quickly, one of them being a fellow student, the American composer Samuel Barber; the two of them later shared a home outside New York City for nearly thirty years.
Menotti had begun composing before coming to the US, and continued during the 1930's. He was in the US when World War II broke out, and remained here, though retaining his Italian citizenship. While his works soon became known within the musical fraternity, he first gained wider recognition with two one-act operas, The Medium and The Telephone, in 1945-46. In 1973 he left the US and retired to a Scottish estate. Now 94, he has had little contact with the international musical scene in the last several years.
The commission for Amahl was in one sense a follow-on to an opera he wrote for radio in 1939, The Old Maid and the Thief. Of course World War II suspended most such events, and with the surging interest in television- which began almost before the War was over- it was logical to try to marry the operatic stage to the small screen (small indeed on Christmas Eve, 1951, when NBC first broadcast Amahl!). The inspiration for the opera was a classical painting, “The Adoration of the Magi” by Hieronymus Bosch. The somewhat unusual take on the Christmas story- Amahl, a handicapped shepherd boy, living with his mother in what may be the Holy Land, is visited by the Three Kings on their way to find the baby Jesus, and ultimately leaves home to accompany them on their quest- is Menotti's own; he wrote the libretto in English, in addition to composing the score for the one-act opera. The opera is the most popular in the world, with over five hundred performances annually, in large part because, as Grove puts it, “...roles...are skillfully conceived so that they can be performed by amateurs.”
The Chorus previously performed a Menotti work about the Children's Crusade-- The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi-- in December, 1993.
J. R. Fancher, Nov. 2005