Composer Gian Carlo Menotti dies at 95

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ROME -- Composer Gian Carlo Menotti, the founder of the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, died Thursday at a hospital in Monaco, his son said. He was 95.

"He died pretty peacefully and without any pain. He died in my arms," said Francis Menotti by telephone from Monte Carlo.

The Italian opera composer founded the annual creative arts festival in the Umbrian hilltown of Spoleto in 1957 and 20 years later, a similar undertaking, Spoleto, U.S.A., for Charleston, S.C., followed by one for Melbourne, Australia, in 1986.

Although Menotti's own later works were criticized as shallow, his English-language operas, including the written-for-radio "Amahl and the Night Visitors," have been enthusiastically received by audiences. By 1976, The New York Times called him the most-performed opera composer in the United States.

He won two Pulitzer Prizes for music: in 1950 for "The Consul," and in 1955 for "The Saint of Bleecker Street."

His Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto sought to bring together fresh creative forces in U.S. and European culture. The tradition launched young artists into impressive careers. Shirley Verrett sang her first "Carmen" there; in 1959, Patrice Chereau launched his opera career with a much-praised production of "L'Italiana in Algeri;" and Tennessee Williams' "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" premiered in 1962. From Spoleto's stages, dancers such as Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp went on to shape the direction of contemporary dance.

Menotti said he was on the verge of giving up his direction of the cultural festivals several times -- in 1990, he said he wanted to quit the South Carolina event because he was being "treated like the clerk."

He eventually did leave the U.S. festival, in October 1993, after a series of better disagreements with the festival's board about financial and artistic control.

But despite his frequent urges to leave, Menotti seemed always as engaged as ever -- even more. "I feel like the sorcerer's apprentice -- I've started something and I don't know how to stop it," Menotti said in 1981 in Spoleto.

Menotti, who lived between Monaco and Scotland, returned to the Spoleto festival every year to celebrate his birthday, including this past July.

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