Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Composer Rivalries: Menotti v. Stravinsky

Of course we all know the Salieri/Mozart feud (both alleged and real), but they weren't alone.

I recall in college reading an interview with Menotti, and his making some disparaging remark about Stravinsky . . . something along the lines of "not knowing what to do with the key of C." Despite my great love of all things Stravinsky, I found the remark humorous, though slightly bitchy on Menotti's part.

Years later, I read more of some supposed rivalry between the two composers.

In his book, Stravinsky, Inside Out, Charles M. Joseph tells of how Stravinsky was jealous of Menotti's celebrity due to his popular operas on radio, television and Broadway. Stravinsky figured he'd also have a go at it, and of course, created The Flood for television. Later, he thought he'd also take Menotti's model of producing opera on Broadway and bring The Rake's Progress to the Great White Way.

Rouben Ten-Arturunian (designer for The Flood) approached Igor, suggesting he forgo producing Rake on Broadway, scrap the Metropolitan Opera's production (which had only seen five performances in the house its premiere season, and two the following) and allow Menotti to re-design and direct it for the Metropolitan Opera. (One of Menotti's biographers incorrectly asserts Menotti did have a hand in the Met's production, though nothing in the Met's annals suggests such a thing actually occurred).

That notion sent Stravinsky into a tailspin of rage, and, incensed he wrote a letter to Ten-Arturunian stating he'd rather not have his opera staged there at all, much less have Menotti put it, "especially if it played between Lulu and some jazz-integratationist rubbish." Youza!

So, it isn't just the performers who can snipe at each other.


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