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Arrigo Boito

Arrigo Boito (24 February 1842 – 10 June 1918), aka Enrico Giuseppe Giovanni Boito, pseudonym Tobia Gorrio, was an Italian poet, journalist, novelist and composer, best known today for his opera libretti and his own opera, Mefistofele.



Arrigo Boito.

Born in Padua, the son of Silvestro Boito, an Italian painter of miniatures and his wife, a Polish countess, Józefina Radolińska, Boito studied music at the Milan Conservatory with Alberto Mazzucato until 1861. In 1866 he fought under Giuseppe Garibaldi in the Seven Weeks War in which the Kingdom of Italy and Prussia fought against Austria, after which Venice was ceded to Italy.

The premiere of his only finished opera, Mefistofele, based on Goethe's Faust, took place on 5 March 1868, at La Scala, Milan. The premiere, which he conducted himself, was badly received, provoking riots and duels over its supposed "Wagnerism", and it was closed by the police after two performances. Verdi commented, "He aspires to originality but succeeds only at being strange." Boito withdrew the opera from further performances to rework it, and it had a more successful second premiere, in Bologna on 10 April 1875. Boito's revised and drastically cut version also changed Faust from a baritone to a tenor, and it is still frequently performed and recorded today.

Other than Mefistofele, Boito wrote very little music. He completed (but later destroyed) another opera, Ero e Leandro, and left incomplete a further opera, Nerone, which he had been working at, on and off, from 1877 to 1915. Excluding the last act, for which he left only a few sketches, it was finished after his death by Arturo Toscanini and Vincenzo Tommasini and premiered at La Scala, 1924. Mefistofele is the only work of his performed with any regularity today. The Prologue to the opera, set in Heaven, is a favorite concert piece. He also left a Symphony in A minor in manuscript[1].

Boito's literary powers never dried up. As well as writing the libretti for his own operas, Boito wrote them for other composers. As "Tobia Gorrio" (an anagram of his name) he provided the libretto for Amilcare Ponchielli's La Gioconda. His rapprochement with Verdi, whom he had offended in a toast shortly after they had collaborated on Verdi's Inno delle Nazioni ("Anthem of the Nations", London, 1862), was effected by the music publisher Giulio Ricordi. Boito successfully revised the libretto for Verdi's unwieldy Simon Boccanegra, which then premiered to great acclaim in 1881. With that, their mutual friendship and respect blossomed and, though Verdi's projection for an opera based on King Lear never came to anything, Boito provided subtle and resonant libretti for Verdi's last masterpieces, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893). When Verdi died, Boito was there at his bedside.

Boito was director of the Parma Conservatoire from 1889 to 1897. He received the honorary degree of doctor of music from the University of Cambridge in 1893. He died in Milan and was interred there in the Cimitero Monumentale.

A memorial concert was given in his honor at La Scala in 1948. The orchestra was conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Recorded in very primitive sound, the concert has been issued on CD.

Camillo Boito, Arrigo's older brother, was an Italian architect and engineer, and a noted art critic, art historian and novelist.

Opera libretti

The years given are those of the premieres.

Boito also provided the text to Verdi's cantata Inno delle Nazioni (24 May 1862, Her Majesty's Theatre, London).

See also


  1. ^ Boito, Arrigo; Przeslica, Agnieszka, ed. "Publication of Boito's A minor Symphony". Boccaccini E Spada. Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  • Arrigo Boito at the Stanford University: OperaGlass Composer index
  • Mefistofele Creative Commons MP3 Recording
  • Costantino Maeder, Il real fu dolore e l'ideal sogno. Arrigo Boito e i limiti dell'arte, Cesati: Firenze, 2002.
  • Emanuele d'Angelo, Arrigo Boito, in Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies, edited by Gaetana Marrone, New York, Routledge, 2007, 1, pp. 271-274.
  • Riccardo Viagrande, Arrigo Boito "Un caduto chèrubo", poeta e musicista, Palermo, L'Epos, 2008.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ARRIGO BOITO (1842-), Italian poet and musical composer, was born at Padua on the 24th of February 1842. He studied music at the Milan Conservatoire, but even in those early days he devoted as much of his time to literature as to music, forecasting the divided allegiance which was to be the chief characteristic of his life's history. While at the Conservatoire he wrote and composed, in collaboration with Franco Faccio, a cantata, Le Sorelle d'Italia, which was performed with success. On completing his studies Boito travelled for some years, and after his return to Italy settled down in Milan, dividing his time between journalism and music. In 1866 he fought under Garibaldi, and in 1868 conducted the first performance of his opera Mefistofele at the Scala theatre, Milan. The work failed completely, and was withdrawn after a second performance. It was revived in 1875 at Bologna in a much altered and abbreviated form, when its success was beyond question. It was performed in London in 1880 with success, but in spite of frequent revivals has never succeeded in firmly establishing itself in popular favour. Boito treated the Faust legend in a spirit far more nearly akin to the conception of Goethe than is found in Gounod's Faust, but, in spite of many isolated beauties, his opera lacks cohesion and dramatic interest. His energies were afterwards chiefly devoted to the composition of libretti, of which the principal are Otello and Falstaff, set to music by Verdi; La Gioconda, set by Ponchielli; Amleto, set by Faccio; and Ero e Leandre, set by Bottesini and Mancinelli. These works display a rare knowledge of the requirements of dramatic poetry, together with uncommon literary value. Boito also published a book of poems and a novel, L'Alfier Meno. The degree of doctor of music was conferred upon him in 1893 by the university of Cambridge.

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