Thursday morning’s tribute concert to Gian Carlo Menotti played to a Sottile Theatre that was stuffed to the exit signs with memorializers and, let’s be frank, those who didn’t care much about Menotti one way or the other but were only too happy to take in a free concert by the SFO. I’d wager that many of those patrons got more than they bargained for, though. You wouldn’t have had to know Menotti personally to find the remarks by choral director Joseph Flummerfelt and Mayor Riley moving. Neither man glossed over the schism that occurred between the composer and the Charleston festival in the early 90s, but neither did they dwell on it. Flum’s ties with Menotti stretched back to 1972 and the original festival in Spoleto, Italy, and his eloquent speech was both a rare insider’s history of the two festivals and a personal recollection of an old friend. Following his remarks, soprano Karen Hoffstodt performed one of the composer's most famous arias, from his opera The Consul:
“It’s impossible to overstate the positive impact Menotti and Spoleto had on the city,” Riley said, and many in the audience nodded in agreement. The mayor dipped into his standard “passion for excellence” speech a few times, but mostly he spoke as a man who’d lost a true friend of more than 30 years, a man who he said had charm, genius, wit, humor, and perseverance in huge supply, but who, the mayor acknowledged, could also be exasperating. “The disagreements that led to Gian Carlo’s departure must be seen like family disagreements,” Riley said, and you knew he meant it. He also reiterated his belief that the two festivals will be reunited.
“For Menotti, the word ‘festival’ was not a throwaway term,” the mayor observed. “Everything and everyone must be touched by it; he knew that Spoleto must become the life and the patina of the city. And so the festival and the city became one thing, not just a series of concerts.”
After Riley’s remarks, John Kennedy led the orchestra in a remarkable performance of Menotti friend Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings as photos of the composer throughout his life at the two festivals played on a screen. Listen to it below. It was a touching tribute for a man without whom Charleston would be a very different place today.