Gian Carlo Menotti was born on 7 July 1911, in Cadegliano, Italy. At the age of 7, under the guidance of his mother, he began to compose songs, and four years later he wrote the words and music of his first opera, The Death of Pierrot. In 1923 he began his formal musical training at the Verdi Conservatory in Milan. Following the death of his father, his mother took him to the United States, where he was enrolled at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music. There he completed his musical studies, working in composition under Rosario Scalero.
His first mature work, the one-act opera buffa, Amelia Goes to the Ball, was premiered in 1937, a success that led to a commission from the National Broadcasting Company to write an opera especially for radio, The Old Maid and the Thief, the first such commission ever given. His first ballet, Sebastian, followed in 1944, and for this he wrote the scenario as well as the score. After the premiere of his Piano Concerto in 1945, Menotti returned to opera with The Medium, shortly joined by The Telephone, both enjoying international success.
The Consul, Menotti's first full-length work, won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle award as the best musical play of the year in 1954. By far Menotti's best-known work is the Christmas classic Amahl and the Night Visitors, composed for NBC-TV in 1951.
Menotti writes the text to all his operas, the original language being English in every case, with the exception of Amelia Goes to the Ball, The Island God, and The Last Savage, which were first set to Italian words. Recent operas include The Singing Child (1993) and Goya (1986), written for Plácido Domingo and given its premiere by The Washington Opera. Menotti's most recent vocal works are Jacob's Prayer (1997), a commission from the American Choral Directors Association, Gloria, written as part of a composite Mass celebrating the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize, For the Death of Orpheus, with a premiere by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra led by Robert Shaw in November 1990, and Llama de Amor Viva, premiered in April 1991. He has also recently written a trio for the Verdehr Trio, which received its world premiere at the Spoleto Festival on Menotti's 85th birthday in July 1996.
In addition to the numerous operatic works, Menotti has enriched the artistic world with ballets, including Errand into the Maze, and The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore; Pastorale for Piano and Strings (1934); Poemetti, a suite of piano pieces for children (1937); The Hero (1952), a song on a text by Robert Horan; and Canti della Lontananza, a cycle of seven songs (1967).
1958 saw the opening of Menotti's own festival, the Festival of Two Worlds, in Spoleto, Italy. Devoted to the cultural collaboration of Europe and America in a program embracing all the arts, the Spoleto Festival has gone on to be one of the most popular festivals in Europe. The festival literally became "of two worlds" in 1977 with the founding of Spoleto USA in Charleston, South Carolina, which he led until 1993 when he became Director of the Rome Opera. He continues to direct opera at Spoleto and elsewhere, including a Boheme at the Washington Opera in November 1996. His 1996 Spoleto production of Amahl has been filmed for commercial release.
In 1984 Menotti was awarded the Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement in the arts. He was chosen the 1991 "Musician of the Year" by Musical America, inaugurating worldwide tributes to the composer in honor of his 80th birthday.