Recalling Gian Carlo Menotti

By Larry Johnson |

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Gian Carlo Menotti

This piece was originally published in conjunction with a 2019 Arias and Songs program, a special, hourlong program for Pride Weekend, featuring music by LGBTQ artists and composers. One of the individuals featured was Gian Carlo Menotti, an accomplished librettist and composer, who was the professional and life partner of composer Samuel Barber. Host Larry Johnson met Menotti in the 1990s when he served as Menotti’s chaperone for his visit to Chicago. Here are his recollections from Menotti’s visit.

In the early 1990s, the famed composer and librettist Gian Carlo Menotti came to Chicago as the guest for a black-tie event for Chicago Opera Theater. At the time, I had a close friend who was in charge of public relations at COT, who was looking for someone to show Menotti around the city. “This could be fun!,” I thought. A rare opportunity to spend time with a world-famous musician and composer. Who could pass up a chance like this? I volunteered.

During his visit, I would pick him up at the Drake Hotel along with his son, Chip. We went around town seeing and doing whatever the Maestro wanted. One excursion took us the Merchandise Mart, where Menotti sailed through the antiques showrooms acquiring a rug here or a decorative bowl there for his home in Scotland. We lunched, and I drove around the lakefront in Chicago and some northern suburbs. Together, we enjoyed the architecture of homes in Kenilworth and Wilmette as well as the Baha’i Temple.

Menotti was a courtly gentleman of the old school. Well-spoken with no hint of any demanding diva/divo behavior. He was a man in command. My reward for doing this was delightful conversation and insights about his work and his Spoleto Festival in Italy. He told me about his home in Scotland. He also spoke of his work — I remember discussing the character of the grandmother in Vanessa, for example. He had written the libretto, and his longtime friend and late partner, Samuel Barber, composed the music. I still treasure my boldly autographed booklet enclosed in the vinyl LP Vanessa album.

At the end of the visit, he gave me one, not too surprising request: “Tell WFMT to play more of my music.”