Gian Carlo Menotti resigned Friday as artistic director of the Spoleto Festival U.S.A. in a dispute over creative control, but the festival's board of directors has refused to accept the resignation. Menotti says it may be possible to reconcile the differences but added, "Whether they accept it or not, I have resigned."

In a phone conversation from his hotel room in New York, Menotti, who inaugurated in 1977 the annual event held in Charleston, S.C., said his resignation came as a result of a disagreement with the board of directors over the roles of the general manager, Nigel Redden, and the artistic director (himself).

Besides founding international music festivals in Spoleto, Italy (in 1958), Charleston and Melbourne, Australia (1986), Menotti, 79, is recognized as one of the leading living composers and an outstanding operatic stage director. Later in the season, he will direct the Washington Opera's production of his opera "The Saint of Bleecker Street," a production that was launched at the festival in Charleston several years ago and has won critical superlatives. His Christmas opera, "Amahl and the Night Visitors," which has been seen by more people than any other opera thanks to many television productions, was produced last year by the Kennedy Center and will be repeated this year.

Menotti said the board did not fully recognize his role in setting the festival's artistic policies and making artistic decisions, and that it refused to give him the final say on artistic decisions made by Redden. "He is a brilliant administrator," Menotti said, "but this festival is rooted in my vision."

"Boards of directors!" he continued. "They treat the artist as a sort of employee; they sign him to do his job and then they think they have the right to tell him how to do it, what to do."

Board Chairman Ross Markwardt said: "Frankly, I'm going to let the whole thing cool for a few days. Then I'll speak with his agent, and try to open a dialogue that can result in some kind of agreement."

Menotti said he might be persuaded to reconsider his resignation but only "on the condition that I be given carte blanche on artistic matters. The general manager must accept my artistic decisions and cooperate with me; at least, he should do his job and let me do my job. They consider that the general manager should have equal power. It is my festival; I started it, and they challenge my artistic decisions."

Menotti reportedly was engaged in telephone conferences with board members and others in Charleston throughout the weekend, particularly with Mayor Joseph Riley, a vigorous supporter of the festival, which has been a boon to Charleston's economy. "We are hoping that this can be patched up, but so far it has not happened," a spokesman for Menotti said. Menotti is in the second year of a three-year contract as artistic director.

One issue on which Menotti clashed with Redden and then was not supported by the board was an exhibit planned for the 1991 festival. "He {Redden} proposed an exhibit of contemporary sculpture," Menotti said. "And I thought it would be all sorts of contemporary sculpture, but it is only conceptual sculpture -- very narrow-minded. I told him I thought it should be more general. I told the board I do not believe it is worth what it would cost, and if you do not believe in my taste in artistic matters, I should not be your artistic director. I want to avoid being forced to house a whole school of sculpture that I don't approve. ... It would be all right as part of a larger exhibit, but it is immoral to spend $800,000 on such a misrepresentation."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.