Though known as a champion of late Romantic stage music, Gian Carlo Menotti wove threads of folk culture into many of his compositions. His crowning achievement of the fantastical and the folk was his set of twelve madrigals and instrumental interludes, The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore or, The Three Sundays of a Poet. Modeled after a medieval bestiary and Orazio Vecchi’s renaissance madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso, Menotti’s “madrigal fable” consists of an introduction, twelve madrigals a cappella, six instrumental interludes and originally included twelve dancers bound together in a narrative tapestry.
The Unicorn pushes against the inflexible style markers, monolithic representations of gender, and univocality valued in Italian Romanticism. It is a story of the shifting character of a poet, from innocence and purity (the unicorn), to worldly self-satisfaction (the gorgon), to meekness (the manticore). Menotti resists the rigid expectations for a male composer of late-Romantic dramatic stage music when he looks to magic, nature, and animals as moral exemplars rather than historical wars or politics.
A large part of the The Unicorn devotes time to the various reactions of the townsfolk, who at first mock the poet for his fantastical pets, and then acquire their own, only to kill off the beasts when a new creature becomes more popular. While representing Menotti’s turbulent relationship with his critics, it also paints the picture of an outsider narrative where the misunderstood poet is demonized by a mob-like, fashion-obsessed society who react with aggression towards the unknown.
Menotti considered the twelfth and final madrigal his most melancholic choral composition; it was later performed at the funeral of his partner of over 40 years, Samuel Barber, in 1981.
(The Man in the Castle on his deathbed, surrounded by the Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore.)
Oh foolish people who feign to feel what other men have suffered.
You, not I, are the indifferent killers of the Poet’s dreams.
How could I destroy the pain wrought children of my fancy?
What would my life have been without their faithful and harmonious company?
Unicorn, My youthful foolish Unicorn, please do not hide, come close to me.
And you, my Gorgon, behind whose splendor I hid the doubts of my midday, you, too, stand by. And here is my shy and lonely Manticore, who gracefully leads me to my grave.
Farewell. Equally well I loved you all.
Although the world may not suspect it,
all remains intact within the Poet’s heart.
Farewell. Not even death I fear as in your arms I die. Farewell.
Cor Flammae is Vancouver's summer chorus of classically trained, queer singers, performing queer content. Composed from the
ranks of the city's top-flight choral ensembles and singers, the choir seeks to reveal the hidden queer heritage often ignored in the conservative world of classical music....more