MENOTTI: A Biography by John Gruen

MENOTTI: A Biography

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This is not billed as an ""authorized"" biography. However--in its reliance on the composer-impresario's own words, in its lack of critical edge, and in its unwavering blandness of prose--it takes on the creepy, pussyfooting tone of that disreputable breed. Menotti's melodic, accessible operas are certainly in need of reassessment, but Gruen hasn't the technical equipment--musical or analytical--to do much more than summarize plots, point out obvious symbols and devices, and dish up flat or half-baked generalizations: ""a style of music that would influence an entire generation of young American composers. . . never pretentious, and almost always skirts the banal."" Whether Menotti's life needs telling is less selfevident. ""Italy created me; America nourished me; and Scotland will bury me,"" he announces to house-guest Gruen in a Scottish castle equipped with ""elegantly uniformed Ceylonese boys""--and the author dutifully follows the boy prodigy from Lombardy to the Curtis Institute to New York and Spoleto (where Menotti created the Festival of Two Worlds in 1958). Long quotes from the maestro are spliced to long quotes from colleagues, friends, groupies, and servants--some faintly bitchy, most fawning. This padded, tape-recorder approach diminishes the book's usefulness as a reference, and Gruen's insistent, but evasive, dwelling on Menotti's private life is a coy throwback: ""special friend"" and ""companion"" and such are used to discuss Menotti's roommates (Samuel Barber, Thomas Schippers, ""adopted sons""), creating general confusion and specific bewilderment when a few of the interview subjects speak more candidly (""This incredible court he has of beautiful young things of both sexes. . .""). Discussions of artists' lives can illuminate their work--but this shallow, glossy assemblage leaves both life and work in flattering semi-darkness.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1978
Publisher: Macmillan