• U.S.

Music: Bok Party

3 minute read

Philadelphia has never had a more generous music patron than Mary Louise Curtis Bok. Curtis Publishing Co. gave Mrs. Bok her money and Mrs. Bok’s money gave Philadelphia the Curtis Institute of Music. She is still its Lady Bountiful, hires the best teachers available, gives free tuition to all students, monthly stipends to those who need them. Far beyond Philadelphia Mrs. Bok is known as the woman who paid for Stokowski’s famed productions there of Wozzeck and Oedipus Rex in 1931, his H. P. the next year. In 1934 she wrote the checks for Fritz Reiner’s beautiful, expensive Tristan, his Rosenkavalier that critics called the best U. S. opera of the season. Last week operagoers from all over the East headed again for Philadelphia’s Academy of Music to hear sung in English two one-act premieres* that had cost Mrs. Bok $20,000.

First on the bill was Le Pauvre Matelot (The Poor Sailor). Darius Milhaud, a member of the French modernist Group of Six, wrote it to a poem by Jean Cocteau. After its world premiere in Paris nine years ago, the opera was seldom put on. Many at the U. S. premiere last week, listening to the puzzled, formless music, thought they could tell why. Others were impressed by the vivid passages of declamation, the odd, unpleasant story of a woman who murdered her husband unbeknown.

Afterward came the work that many had traveled expressly to hear. Mrs. Bok had praised it to the skies, called its author, 25-year-old Gian-Carlo Menotti, one of the two great talents developed by Curtis, arranged the whole evening to give her protege a hearing. Though Amelia Al Ballo (Amelia Goes to the Ball) hardly justified her claims, it was full of glowing, facetious music admirably suited to the story of a woman who betrayed her lover, assaulted her husband and flirted with a policeman so as not to miss the big ball of the season. Young Menotti nowhere showed astonishing originality, certainly showed he could write better opera bouffe than any other man alive.

Gian-Carlo Menotti was born near Milan. His father was a wealthy importer who did business with Colombia. His mother taught Gregorian chant in a local church. Save for her, young Gian-Carlo had little music instruction until he was 18. In that year Father Menotti died, and Gian-Carlo went to South America to set tle his accounts. Later, in New York, he met Rosario Scalero of Curtis Institute who got him a scholarship there.

Dark, ingratiating Gian-Carlo finished his opera last summer, wrote the libretto (in Italian) as well as the score. Because he believes music should match words, young Menotti rewrote much of his score to fit George Mead’s English translation of the text. Menotti is already hard at work on another opera called The Last Superman, about which he will reveal nothing save that it begins with some old ladies playing bridge. At Curtis he met Samuel Barber, 26, of Westchester, Pa., who was beaming at Menotti’s premiere last week, as fortnight ago Menotti was beaming in New York when the Philharmonic firstnighted Barber’s Second Symphony.

*Both operas were to be repeated this week in Manhattan’s New Amsterdam Theatre.

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