Gian Carlo Menotti, composer and librettist of Amahl and the Night Visitors, hand-chose Chet Allen for the role of Amahl after an exhaustive cross-country search. Given that Menotti also tried to cast the then-unknown Maria Callas as lead in his opera The Consul, it's probably fair to say that he knew beautiful singing when he heard it.
As mentioned in the previous blog post, Menotti apparently helped persuade Chet to pursue opportunities in Hollywood at the request of his mother. Whether or not this was the best thing for Chet at the time is difficult to say. Similarly, Menotti tried to help Chet after the youngster's voice changed by casting him in a production of his opera The Medium, but that raises the question of whether or not casting Chet as a mute was truly the best idea.
Either way, I have no doubt that Menotti's heart was in the right place. In fact, after Chet's death, Menotti never looked at his wonderful opera Amahl in the same way again, as he came always to associate it with the troubles that beset the opera's first star.
Menotti is known primarily as an operatic composer whose works held popular appeal. This popular appeal may have run its course at some point, and Menotti's fame gradually waned over the years. Some people may have thought that his music had become dated or was overly derivative, or maybe tastes in general had became more eclectic. Nevertheless, today's audience need not be confined by the changing trends of past decades. The fact is, Menotti was a terrific composer, and his great works will in all probability persist forever.
One piece which I love is Menotti's Concerto for Violin in A Minor. Here we have the first movement, as played by Jennifer Koh. Listen to how, at 3:51, the notes just explode off her bow. What a fantastic piece of music performed beautifully!
Of course, it is opera where Menotti made his mark. Along with Amahl, Menotti's most celebrated work during his most prolific run was likely The Consul, a full-length opera written in 1949. Here is the powerful "Now, O lips, say goodbye," with Susan Bullock.