Luigi Dallapiccola's Il Prigioniero and Gian Carlo Menotti's The Consul: a comparative study

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As art reflects life, so too does it hold a mirror to the lives of the people who create it. The turbulent events of the first decades of the twentieth century, including two World Wars and the rise of Italian Fascism and German Nazism in the 1920s and 30s, affected millions of lives across several continents. This document explores the ways in which Luigi Dallapiccola (1904–1973) and Gian Carlo Menotti (1911–2007) voice their reactions to these events in their operas, Il Prigioniero (1948) and The Consul (1950). Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola spent twenty months in internment during the First World War, and would be forced on several occasions to go into hiding during the Second World War. His opposition to Mussolini and the Italian Fascists, coupled with his quasi–obsession with internment and freedom, led to his composition of three works of “protest music,” of which Il Prigioniero is the second. Il Prigioniero tells the story of a prisoner of the Inquisition, his attempt at escape and eventual capture. Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti emigrated to the United States in 1928, at age seventeen, and spent a great much of his time traveling and working in various countries. Having friends and family in many nations, and being of “alien” status in the United States, Menotti was very aware of the processes of immigration and the plight of refugees. The Consul is the story of a woman attempting to obtain an exit visa to escape persecution in her home country. She is met by bureaucratic “red tape” at every turn, and is unable to flee, resulting in her suicide. Although Dallapiccola and Menotti did not know each other, nor do they appear to have been familiar with each other's work, both composers drew the same conclusions about the nature of freedom due to their life experiences through shared historical events. Both Il Prigioniero and The Consul explore themes of hope, prayer, accessibility to freedom, and the culpability of both action and inaction in perpetuating oppression.

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