Gian Carlo Menotti (1911 – 2007) was an Italian-American composer and librettist. He wrote the classic Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, and two dozen other operas intended to appeal to popular taste. He won the Pulitzer Prize for two of them: The Consul (1950) and The Saint of Bleecker Street (1955). “Amahl” was the first opera ever televised, while “The Consul,” “The Medium” and “The Telephone” were produced on Broadway.
Born in Cadegliano-Viconago, Italy, near Lake Maggiore and the Swiss border, Menotti was the sixth of eight children of Alfonso (a coffee merchant) and Ines Menotti. Menotti began writing songs when he was seven years old and at eleven 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.
Following her husband’s death, Ines Menotti went to Colombia in a futile attempt to salvage the family’s coffee business and, while there, she enrolled Menotti at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. She returned to Italy after the business failed. Armed with a letter of introduction from the wife of Arturo Toscanini, Gian Carlo studied composition at Curtis under Rosario Scalero. Fellow students at Curtis included Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber. Barber became Menotti’s lover and partner in life and in work; with Menotti crafting the libretto for Barber’s most famous opera, Vanessa, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1958. After graduation, the two men bought a house together in Mount Kisco, New York, which they named “Capricorn” and shared for over forty years.
It was at Curtis that Menotti wrote his first mature opera, Amelia Goes to the Ball (Amelia al Ballo), in his own Italian text. The Island God and The Last Savage were the only other operas he wrote in Italian, the rest being in English. Like Wagner, he wrote the libretti of all his operas. His most successful works were composed in the 1940s and 1950s and he also taught at the Curtis Institute of Music.
Menotti founded the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy in 1958 and its companion festival in Charleston, South Carolina in 1977. Menotti also wrote several ballets and numerous choral works. Notable among these is his cantata, The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi, written in 1963 and the cantata, Landscapes and Remembrances, in 1976 – a descriptive work of Menotti’s memories of America written for the United States Bicentennial. In 1984 Menotti was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor for achievement in the arts and in 1991 he was chosen Musical America’s “Musician of the Year”. In addition to composing operas Menotti directed most productions of his work. He died on February 1, 2007 at the age of 95.
John Corigliano was born in New York to a musical family. His father, John Corigliano Sr., was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for 23 years and his mother, Rose Buzen, was an accomplished pianist. Corigliano attended school in Brooklyn and studied composition at Columbia University and at the Manhattan School of Music. Before achieving success as a composer, Corigliano worked as assistant to the producer on the Leonard Bernstein Young People’s Concerts and as a session producer for classical artists such as André Watts.
Most of Corigliano’s work has been for symphony orchestra. He employs a wide variety of styles, sometimes even within the same work, but aims to make his work accessible for a relatively large audience. He has written symphonies, as well as works for string orchestra and wind band. Additionally, Corigliano has written concerts for clarinet, flute, violin, oboe, and piano; film scores; various chamber and solo instrument works and the opera, The Ghosts of Versailles, which enjoyed success at the premiere.
Corigliano first came into prominence in 1964 when, at the age of 26, his Sonata for Violin and Piano (1963) was the only winner of the chamber-music competition of the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Support from Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation followed, as did important commissions. For the New York Philharmonic he composed, Vocalise (1999), Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (1977) and Fantasia on an Ostinato (1986). For the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, he wrote Poem in October (1970). For the New York State Council on the Arts, he composed the Oboe Concerto (1975). For flutist James Galway he composed Promenade Overture (1981), as well as the Symphony No. 2 (2001). The National Symphony Orchestra commissioned Corigliano’s evening-length, A Dylan Thomas Trilogy (1960, rev. 1999) and also composed Chiaroscuro, for two pianos. In 2011, Corigliano’s “One Sweet Morning” premiered at Avery Fisher Hall for the New York Philharmonic, a commission commemorating the 10th anniversary of the September 11th Attacks.
Dominick Argento (born 1927) is an American composer, best known for his lyric operatic and choral music. Among his best known pieces are the operas, Postcard from Morocco, Miss Havisham’s Fire, The Masque of Angels, The Aspern Papers, as well as the songs, “Six Elizabethan Songs” and “From the Diary of Virginia Woolf” for which he earned the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1975.
Argento, the son of Sicilian immigrants, grew up in York, Pennsylvania. Upon graduating from high school, he was drafted into the Army and spent some time as a cryptographer. Following his discahrge from the military, Argento studied piano performance at the Peabody Conservatory on the G.I. Bill but, soon after decided, to switch to composition. He earned a bachelor’s degree (1951) and a master’s degree (1953) from Peabody, where his teachers included Nicholas Nabokov, Henry Cowell and Hugo Weisgall. While there, he was briefly the music director of Weisgall’s Hilltop Musical Company, which Weisgall founded as a venue for local composers to present new work. This experience gave Argento broad exposure and experience in the world of new opera. Hilltop’s stage director was writer John Olon-Scrymgeour with whom Argento would later collaborate on many operas.
During this time period he also spent a year in Florence on a Fulbright Fellowship and has called the experience “life-altering.” Argento went on to receive his Ph.D. from the Eastman School of Music. Following completion of this degree, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent another year in Florence. As a student in the 1950s, Argento divided his time between America and Italy and his music is greatly influenced both by his instructors in the United States and his personal affection for Italy, particularly the city of Florence. Many of Argento’s works were written in Florence, where he spends a portion of every year.
He has been a professor (and, more recently, a professor emeritus) at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Argento frequently remarks that he finds that city to be tremendously supportive of his work and that he thinks his musical development would have been impeded had he stayed in the high-pressure music world on the East Coast.
In 1984, the Minnesota Opera commissioned Argento’s opera, Casanova’s Homecoming, with text by the composer. It went on to a well-received run at New York City Opera, where at the insistence of Beverly Sills, it became the first opera performed in New York in English to have English subtitles, to ensure the audience would understand all the jokes. The opera won the 1986 National Institute for Music Theatre Award. Argento was one of the founders of the Center Opera Company (now the Minnesota Opera) and Newsweek Magazine once referred to the Twin Cities as “Argento’s town.” Argento has written fourteen operas as well as major song cycles, orchestral works and choral pieces, many of which were commissioned for and premiered by Minnesota-based artists. He has referred to his wife, the soprano Carolyn Bailey, as his muse, and she was a frequent performer of his works until her death in 2006.
Laura Nyro (1947 – 1997) was an American songwriter, singer and pianist. She achieved critical acclaim with her own recordings, particularly the albums Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (1968) and New York Tendaberry (1969), and had commercial success with artists such as Barbra Streisand and The 5th Dimension recording her songs. Her style was a hybrid of pop, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, show tunes, rock and soul.
Between 1968 and 1970, a number of artists had hits with her songs: The 5th Dimension with “Blowing Away”, “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Stoned Soul Picnic”, “Sweet Blindness”, “Save the Country” and “Black Patch”. Blood Sweat & Tears and Peter, Paul & Mary with “And When I Die”. Three Dog Night and Maynard Ferguson with “Eli’s Comin’” and Barbra Streisand with “Stoney End”, “Time and Love” and “Hands off the Man”. Nyro’s best-selling single was the recording by Carole King and Gerry Goffin singing, “Up on the Roof”.
Nyro was born in the Bronx, New York, the daughter of Gilda Mirsky Nigro, a bookkeeper, and Louis Nigro, a piano tuner and jazz trumpeter. Laura had a younger brother, Jan Nigro, who has become a well-known children’s musician. As a child, she taught herself piano, read poetry and listened to her mother’s records by Leontyne Price, Billie Holiday and classical composers such as Ravel and Debussy. She composed her first songs at age eight. With her family, she spent summers in the Catskill Mountains, where her father played the trumpet at the resorts.
She attended Manhattan’s High School of Music and Art. While in high school, she sang with a group of friends in subway stations and on street corners. She said, “I would go out singing, as a teenager, to a party or out on the street, because there were harmony groups there and that was one of the joys of my youth.” She also commented: “I was always interested in the social consciousness of certain songs. My mother and grandfather were progressive thinkers, so I felt at home in the peace movement and the women’s movement and that has influenced my music.”
Her father’s work brought him into contact with record company executive, Artie Mogull and his partner Paul Barry, who auditioned Laura in 1966. They became her first managers. She sold her first song “And When I Die” to Peter, Paul and Mary for $5,000 and made her first extended professional appearance, at age 18, singing at the “hungry i” coffeehouse in San Francisco. Mogull negotiated a contract for her and she recorded her debut album, More Than a New Discovery, for the Verve Folkways label. The album provided material for other artists, notably the 5th Dimension and Barbra Streisand.
The new contract allowed Nyro more artistic freedom and control. In 1968, Columbia released Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, her second album. This received high critical praise for the depth and sophistication of the performance and arrangements, which merged pop structure with creative imagery, rich vocals and avant-garde jazz, and is widely considered to be one of her best works. It was followed in 1969 by New York Tendaberry, another highly acclaimed work which cemented Nyro’s artistic credibility. The record’s “Time and Love” and “Save the Country” emerged as two of her most well-regarded and popular songs, sung by other artists.
She had a relationship with singer/songwriter Jackson Browne in 1970 – 1971 but married Vietnam War veteran, David Bianchini, in 1972 after a whirlwind romance and spent the next three years living with him in a small town in Massachusetts. The marriage ended after three years, during which time she grew accustomed to country life as opposed to the city life where she had recorded her first five records. She had one son, Gil Bianchini, also known as musician Gil-T, from a short-lived relationship with a man named Harindra Singh, but gave him the surname of her ex-husband.
In 1975, following the split from Bianchini, Nyro suffered the trauma of the death of her mother from ovarian cancer at the age of 49. In a twist of fate, Nyro was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1996. After the diagnosis, Columbia Records prepared a double-disc CD retrospective of material from her years at the label. Together Columbia Records and Nyro selected the tracks and approved the final project. She lived to see the release of Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro (1997) and was reportedly pleased with the outcome. She died of ovarian cancer in Danbury, Connecticut, on April 8, 1997, at 49, the same age at which the disease had claimed the life of her mother. In 2012, Nyro was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Enrico Nicola “Henry” Mancini (1924 – 1994) was an American composer, conductor and arranger, who is best remembered for his film and television scores. He won a record number of Grammy Awards, plus a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. His best-known works include the theme to The Pink Panther film series and the theme to the Peter Gunn television series. Mancini had a long collaboration with the film director Blake Edwards and won numerous Academy Awards for the songs in Edwards films, including “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “Days of Wine and Roses” and for the score to Victor Victoria.
Mancini was born in the Little Italy neighborhood of Cleveland and was raised near Pittsburgh, in the steel town of West Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. His parents emigrated from the Abruzzo region of Italy. Mancini’s father, Quinto (born in Scanno, Italy) was a steelworker, who made his only child begin piccolo lessons at the age of eight. When Mancini was 12 years old, he began piano lessons. Quinto and Henry played flute together in the Aliquippa Italian immigrant band, “Sons of Italy”. After graduating from high school, Mancini attended the renowned Juilliard School of Music in New York. In 1943, after roughly one year at Juilliard, his studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the United States Army. In 1945, he participated in the liberation of a concentration camp in southern Germany.
In 1946, he became a pianist and arranger for the newly re-formed Glenn Miller Orchestra, led by Tex Beneke and in 1952, Mancini joined the Universal Pictures music department. During the next six years, he contributed music to over 100 movies, most notably The Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, Tarantula, This Island Earth, The Glenn Miller Story (for which he received his first Academy Award nomination), The Benny Goodman Story and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. During this time, he also wrote some popular songs. His first hit was a single by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians titled, “I Won’t Let You Out of My Heart”.
Mancini left Universal-International to work as an independent composer/arranger in 1958. Soon after, he scored the television series, Peter Gunn, for writer/producer Blake Edwards. This was the beginning of a relationship in which Edwards and Mancini collaborated on 30 films over 35 years. Along with Alex North, Elmer Bernstein, Leith Stevens and Johnny Mandel, Henry Mancini was a pioneer of the inclusion of jazz elements in film and TV scoring at the time. Mancini scored many TV movies, including The Thorn Birds and The Shadow Box. He wrote many television themes, including Mr. Lucky, NBC Mystery Movie, What’s Happening!!, Tic Tac Dough and Once Is Not Enough. In the 1984–85 television season, four series featured original Mancini themes: Newhart, Hotel, Remington Steele and Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Songs with music by Mancini were staples of the easy listening genre from the 1960s to the 1980s. Mancini recorded over 90 albums, in styles ranging from big band to light classical to pop. Eight of these albums were certified gold by The Recording Industry Association of America. He had a 20-year contract with RCA Records, resulting in 60 commercial record albums that made him a household name among artists of easy-listening music
Mancini died of pancreatic cancer in Los Angeles on June 14, 1994. He was working at the time on the Broadway stage version of Victor/Victoria, which he never saw on stage. Mancini was nominated for an unprecedented 72 Grammy’s, winning 20. Additionally he was nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning four. He also won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for two Emmys.
Recipe from the Abruzzo Region
The Abruzzo is a wild and craggy region with small fishing hamlets along the Adriatic and pastures in the highlands inland where, until quite recently, shepherds lived with their flocks for much of the year. The cooking is frugal, simple peasant food but wholesome.
Fava Bean Soup with Peas and Artichokes
- 12 ounces (300 g) fresh fava beans (use frozen; its easier)
- 10 ounces (250 g) freshly shelled or frozen peas (if you buy unshelled, double the weight)
- 4 artichokes, (use defrosted frozen artichoke hearts; its easier)
- 1 shallot
- 2 ounces (50 g) guanciale (cured pork; or use pancetta)
- 4 potatoes, peeled and diced
- A small bunch of parsley, minced
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Hot water
Prepare the artichokes if using fresh, trimming the tips, slivering them, and eliminating any fuzz there may be in the hearts. Put the pieces in a bowl of acidulated (lemon) water to keep them from discoloring. If using frozen artichokes, just cut in half.
Mince the guanciale or pancetta and the shallot and sauté them in the oil in a large saucepan; when the shallot has become translucent (don’t let it brown), drain the artichokes and add them, together with the diced potatoes.
Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes, then add the fava beans and peas. Season the pot with salt and pepper and add hot water just to cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the peas and beans are tender. Sprinkle the parsley over the soup , cook it a minute more, and serve.
Recipe from the Lombardy Region
Lombardia is landlocked and, therefore, one might not expect to find much in the way of fish. However, the region does boast Italy’s most important lakes and many waterways. Coregonus lavaretus, or the common European white fish, is one of the more abundant European fresh water fish. White fish are a collection of closely related fish, each of which has adapted to its particular habitat. Those in the major Italian lakes are quite popular because they are carnivorous and therefore don’t have those muddy flavors common to bottom feeders. If you visit Lake Garda, you will find grilled white fish and also White Fsh alla Gardesana, with a sauce that includes capers and can include either tomato or anchovies.
White Fish Filets Gardesana Style
- 2 European whole white fish (American white fish is quite similar), weighing 1 1/3 pounds (600 g) each and cut into fillets
- 2 ripe plum tomatoes or 2 anchovy filets packed in oil, mashed
- 4 fresh basil leaves
- 3 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed and patted dry
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- The juice of a lemon
- Finely chopped chives, to serve as a garnish
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- Salt to taste
Set the filets on a plate, drizzle the lemon juice over them and lightly salt them.
If you are including the tomatoes, heat a small pot of water to a boil, blanch them, peel them, seed them, draining away the water they contain and dice them finely.
Finely chop the capers and the basil leaves.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet large enough for the filets to lie flat and cook them for 3-5 minutes over high heat turning them carefully. When they are golden, remove them to a serving platter and keep them warm.
Return the skillet to the heat and add either the diced tomato or the anchovy filets, together with the chopped capers. As soon as the mixture begins to cook add the dry white wine and boil until the sauce is slightly reduced. Spoon it over the fish and serve at once, with the vegetable of choice, or if you want to be traditional, with a fairly soft polenta.
Recipe from the Sicilian Region
Sicily is the only Italian region where pistachio trees are growing and the town of Bronte is the largest producer in the region. Bronte pistachios are preferred for their delicate aroma and their nutty and sweet-sour taste.
- 5 cups all purpose flour (1 lb)
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
- Zest of one lemon
- 1 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped, 5 oz.
- 1 cup sugar, 8 oz.
- 1 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature) ½ lb
- 1 egg
- 3 yolks, lightly beat
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 2 oz. shelled pistachios, finely ground, and granulated sugar for garnish
Making the dough
Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves. Add the lemon zest and the chopped pistachios.
In an electric mixer bowl, cream the sugar and butter.
Add the flour mixture and the eggs and honey and mix thoroughly.
If mixture is too dry add a few tablespoons of milk.
Do not over mix
Transfer onto a flat floured surface and briefly knead to bring dough together.
Do not handle dough more than necessary.
Over mixing would build up gluten, which is good if you are making pasta or bread however it is incompatible to these cookies whose characteristic is crumbliness.
Divide the dough into 2 parts.
Place each piece on a sheet of wax paper and roll dough into 1 ½” wide log. Wrap it tightly and refrigerate.
Follow the same procedure for the other piece of cookie dough. Refrigerate until dough is firm, at least for 2 hours, or store until ready to use.
Forming the cookies
Take the dough roll out of refrigerator, one log at a time, and use a sharp knife to cut it into ½” disks. Place each disk onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper, about 1 ½ inch apart.
Garnish each cookie with a good pinch of ground pistachios and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Repeat process with the other log.
Instead of forming logs, you can roll out the dough to ¼” thick and use a cookie cutter, or cut with a sharp knife into any shape; decorate any way you prefer.
Baking the cookies
Bake in batches at 350 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes; bake cookies until they are a light golden brown. Be careful not to overcook these delicate cookies.
- Opera by Menotti: The Old Maid and the Thief in the FRINGE WORLD Festival 2014 (loveoperawa.wordpress.com)
- Italian American Culture – The Art Of Writing(jovinacooksitalian.com)