A Renaissance Man
On this Ground Hog Day-Candlemas Day my first moribund task was reading the obituaries. Yes, I was looking for my "shadow". The old belief is that if the sun shines on Candlemas Day or if the groundhog (woodchuck) sees his shadow when he emerges on this day, six more weeks of winter will ensue. Well, the sun is shining bright, it's cool and the prediction is for warmer days here in So.Cal. Candlemas commemorates the occasion of the Virgin Mary bringing her new Son, Jesus, to the temple to meet the aged Simeon and learn in his shadow.
Gian Carlo Menotti, a world famous opera composer and director died at a hospital in Monaco yesterday. He was 95. His opera, "Amahl and the Night Visitors" holds a special memory for me. I learned today, in the obit. that he was inspired by "The Adoration of the Magi" a painting(at left) by Hieronymus Bosch, a Renaissance Painter. I am studying his "The Garden of Earthly Delights" in my History of Art class. The question I would like to venture is: would either of these men be considered "Renaissance Men"?...for that matter, would the Three Kings (or Wise Men) be considered "RM's" before there even was a Renaissance? What constitutes one these days?
Gian Carlo Menotti organized music festivals in Spoleto, Italy and the U.S. and helped bring opera to the masses with his repeatedly televised Christmas work "Amahl and the Night Visitors". He has been called the "most-often-performed living composer of opera". Before composing "Amahl", the first opera written for television in 1951, brought forth "The Medium" in 1946 and "The Consul" in 1950. The latter won him a Pulitzer Prize. It was translated into 12 languages and performed in more than 20 countries.
He welcomed the commission from NBC to create a Christmas piece. He took inspiration from the famous Bosch work above and musically wove the touching tale of a disabled boy who offers his crutches (or crutch) - his only possession - to the three wise men to give to the infant, Jesus. Because of his sacrifice, the boy is healed. NBC ran the special for many years on Christmas Eve.
My special memory has to do with our annual Christmas Programs that we used to present in our Public Schools. We I started teaching in 1962-3 we thought nothing of having a Tableau of the Manger Scene and having our little exchange student from Mexico be "Nuestro Angelita". She was so sweet and spoke very little English. We continued to present religious and and quasi-religious plays, songs etc. for our annual festivities. The last year I did that was in the early 1980's (forget the exact year). We were heading up to the High School Auditorium because of the bigger venue/stage. That year, I also had a very special boy in my class. He was the first, "student of a former student" of mine. Yes, I had his father in my first years teaching in Pasadena. He was a wonderful student and could not only sing but act. His mother was a music teacher. I think I remember his name was David Yenoki. We, (I) decided to put on "Amahl". We did everything i.e made the hut(hovel) for him, the crutch, costumes, props, makeup and all with lots of help from parents. This was a "cut-down" elementary arrangement of the opera but we learned the main aria's tunes and words. David had a lovey soprano voice and sang his part beautifully. The Magi were magnificent in their splendor. We only did it once and had "SO's" (standing ovations) We thought it was a hit. But then came the complaints, some written, to our school principal and Board. They were mainly from one or two Jewish families in the school who were there that night. That is when I decided, as did the school and district, not to allow anymore "religious" programs from our public schools. From then on we called them "Holiday Shows" and did secular, popular songs i.e Frosty, Rudolph etc. I think the next year, as a school, we did "Babes in Toyland". I was, from then on, discouraged and didn't do any major works before the Christmas Break.
Menotti's compositions also took a backseat and he decided to organize an international summer music festival in Spoleto, Italy, near his childhood home. He told his biographer, John Gruen, "I became so completely disenchanted with the role of the artist in contemporary society. I felt useless...I felt the artist should become a part of society - a needed member of society - rather than just an ornament...My dream was not really to create a festival, but to create a small city wherein the artist would thrive and be one of the most essential members." He nourished young artists there and in 20 years created another festival in Charleston, S.C. U.S.A. He briefly worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood and in 1984, received the Kennedy Center Honor for "lifetime contributions to American culture". He went on, 95 years, to many continued firsts and successes in the U.S. (San Diego) but he always kept his Italian Citizenship.
Is not a "Renaissance Man" one who inspires his peers and his "world" to new heights of creativity? From the meaning of the word, renaissance, "rebirth" didn't he see to that over and over again? Is it not continuing in these festivals? Here was a man who was a "citizen of the world" and willing to travel with his "gifts"...not unlike the Magi of old. Who knows what they started as they returned from their journey following that star. They must've cast a long shadow for all us "groundhogs". Bob!