Boito Arrigo


Arrigo Boito was born on February 24, 1842 in Padua, in the family of a miniature painter, but was brought up by his mother, Polish countess that left her husband by that time. The boy was enrolled at the Milan Conservatory at the age of eleven, where he studied for eight years in the class of composition. Having received a scholarship from the government, he continued studying in Paris. There he met Verdi for the first time. Boito was the author of lyrics to of his National Anthem, composed for London Exhibition. Upon returning to Italy, he joined the Scapigliatura group, which united representatives of the Milanese bohemia. The participants, rejecting sentimentality in the work of Neo-romantics, referred to the origins of Romanticism. In 1864, Boito published the poem “Bear King” (Re Orso), which was distinguished by a variety of poetic metres.

During the war with Austria, he served in the Garibaldi army, although he did not take part in military development. Returning to Milan, he worked as a literary and musical critic and wrote several short stories under the pen name Tobia Gorrio.

1868 was the most important milestone in the life of Boito - the premiere of his opera Mephistopheles took place at the La Scala theater in Milan. Boito was the composer, librettist and conductor at once. His opera was based on “Faust” by Goethe. The premiere performance that he conducted had a frosty reception, provoking riots, he was blamed of "Wagnerism" and after two performances, police closed it down. Verdi commented on the event as follows, "He strives for originality, but only succeeds in being weird". Boito cancelled the opera performances in order to revise it. The second staging in Bologna on April 10, 1875 was more successful. This modified and scaled-down version is the only musical piece by Boito that is performed nowadays.

In the 1870s, he mortgaged himself to writing librettos – he wrote libretto for “Gioconda” by Amilcare Ponchielli, translated “Armida” by Christoph Willibald Gluck in Italian, “Ruslan and Lyudmila” by Mikhail Glinka in Italian. He devoted much effort to Richard Wagner works - he translated “Rienzi” and “Tristan und Isolde”, songs to the lyrics of Matilda Wesendonck, and wrote an open letter to the German composer concerning the premiere of Lohengrin in Bologna (1871). However, the fascination with Wagner and the rejection of modern Italian opera as traditional and routine was gradually replaced by understanding of Giuseppe Verdi real level of significance, turned into creative cooperation and friendship, which lasted until the end of the life of the famous maestro (1901). In 1880, Boito revised the libretto of Simone Boccanegra, and later wrote libretto of “Othello” and “Falstaff”.

It was only in 1901 that Arrigo Boito achieved triumphant success as a composer: a new production of “Mephistopheles” with Feodor Chaliapin in the title role, conducted by Toscanini, took place at La Scala, after which the opera was performed in the entire world. The composer worked on his second opera “Nero” until the end of his life; in 1912, he came to the fifth act, offered the main role to Enrico Caruso that sang Faust in the last Milan premiere of “Mephistopheles”. However, the work was not finished. Despite the endurance of his career, Boito remained in the history of music as the author of the only opera.

Toward the end of his musical career, Boito was appointed director of the Parma Conservatory* in 1889, a post he held until 1897. In 1893 he received an honorary doctorate in music from the University of Cambridge, and after his death in Milan was buried there in the Cimitero Monumentale. Arrigo Boito died on June 10, 1918.

* Nowadays, the Parma Conservatory named after Arrigo Boito (Italian: Conservatorio Statale di Musica "Arrigo Boito")