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Arrigo Boito: Arrigo Boito, original name Enrico Giuseppe Giovanni Boito, pseudonym Tobia Gorrio, (born Feb. 24, 1842, Padua, Lombardy-Venetia, Italy — died June 10, 1918, Milan), Italian poet and composer acclaimed for his opera Mefistofele (1868; for which he composed both libretto and music) and his librettos after William Shakespeare for Giuseppe Verdi's Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893).
The son of an Italian painter of miniatures and a Polish countess, Arrigo Boito attended the Milan Conservatory and traveled to Paris on a scholarship. There he met Giuseppe Verdi, for whom, in 1862, he wrote the text of the Hymn of the Nations. When war broke out in 1866, he joined Giuseppe Garibaldi's volunteers. While working on Mefistofele, Arrigo Boito published articles, influenced by composer Richard Wagner, in which he vigorously attacked Italian music and musicians. Giuseppe Verdi was deeply offended by his remarks, and by 1868, when Mefistofele was produced at Milan, Arrigo Boito's polemics had provoked so much hostility that a near riot resulted. Consequently, the opera was withdrawn after two performances. A much-revised version, produced at Bologna in 1875, has remained in the Italian repertory. Of the several operas based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele is perhaps the most faithful to the spirit of the play, and its libretto is of particularly high quality. Somewhat influenced by Ludwig van Beethoven and Richard Wagner, the opera was unconventional for its day, both in its then-unusual harmonies and in its rejection of some of the conventions of Italian opera. Arrigo Boito's second opera, Nerone, occupied him for nearly 50 years; completed after his death by Vincenzo Tommasini and Arturo Toscanini, it was produced in Milan in 1924, but, despite its grand design and spectacle, it lacked the musical character that distinguished Mefistofele.
Arrigo Boito and Giuseppe Verdi were reconciled in 1873, and Arrigo Boito undertook the revision of the libretto of Giuseppe Verdi's Simon Boccanegra (revised version 1881). His masterly versions of Otello and The Merry Wives of Windsor (the libretto for Falstaff) stimulated the imagination of the aged composer. Arrigo Boito also wrote texts for several other composers, including Amilcare Ponchielli’s La gioconda (1876), and published a volume of verses (under the pseudonym Tobia Gorrio) and several novels.
Arrigo Boito's talent was for both poetry and musical composition. He is remembered today, less for his two operas than for his two libretti, Otello and Falstaff, written for Verdi. His elder brother Camillo became an architect, and in later life designed for Giuseppe Verdi the Rest Home for Aged Musicians in Milan which the great composer founded. Arrigo Boito at first intended to devote himself to music, and began his studies at the Milan Conservatorium, but soon developed an interest in and a talent for literature as well. After the success of a student work, Le sorelle d'Italia, for which Arrigo Boito wrote the words and half of the music, and his friend Franco Faccio the other half, both composers were given a grant by the Italian government to study in Paris.
After spending some time in Paris where he met Victor Hugo, Giuseppe Verdi, Hector Berlioz and Gioachino Rossini, Arrigo Boito travelled to Poland to become acquainted with the relatives of his mother, a Polish Countess, and then made his way via Germany and Belgium to England. Returning to Milan, he became associated with the progressive and reformist groups in Italian music, who tended to admire the Austro-German symphonic school,- which was generally ignored by Italians whose tradition was primarily operatic. Arrigo Boito began to write musical journalism, advocating various reforms, and often attacking contemporary Italian composers. In his mid-twenties, he started work on an opera, Mefistofele, for which he provided both libretto and music. But he was torn between composition and criticism, and this indecision, which continued throughout his life, prevented him from completely fulfilling himself in either field. When Mefistofele was completed, it was staged at La Scala, Milan, in 1868, and conducted by its composer. It can hardly be said to have been given a fair hearing on that occasion, for the theatre was filled with young progressives determined to make a success of Arrigo Boito's opera, and traditionalists equally determined that it should fail. The evening ended in a riot both in the theatre and outside in the piazza. After two further performances, and more demonstrations, Mefistofele was withdrawn by order of the chief of police.
Though bitterly disappointed by the fate of his first opera, Arrigo Boito retained his faith in it, and made a number of important revisions to the score and the libretto. When Mefistofele was staged for the second time, in Bologna seven years later, his faith was vindicated. The opera has, in fact, survived in Italy to this day, and is occasionally seen elsewhere. Arrigo Boito's second opera, Nerone, occupied him on and off for the remainder of his life, and in fact was still not entirely complete when, six years after its composer's death, it was performed for the first time, conducted by Toscanini.
Arrigo Boito's literary output was considerably larger than his slender list of musical compositions. In addition to poetry and criticism, he wrote a number of libretti for other composers, including La Gioconda for Ponchielli. By far his finest libretti are the two he wrote for Verdi, based on plays of Shakespeare. Arrigo Boito had, in his early years, spoken contemptuously of the kind of music Verdi wrote, and for a period the relationship between the two men was distinctly cool. But they were brought together by Verdi's publisher, Tito Ricordi, and although twenty-nine years separated them in age, the youngish Arrigo Boito and the elderly Verdi found themselves able to collaborate happily. After the success of Otello in 1887, Verdi at first felt too old and tired to embark upon another major work, and this time it was Arrigo Boito who finally persuaded him into undertaking Falstaff. By this time a deep and sincere friendship had grown up between the two men, and when Verdi died at the age of eighty-eight, Arrigo Boito wrote: 'Verdi is dead; he has carried away with him an enormous quantity of light and vital warmth. We had all basked in the sunshine of his Olympian old age.'
Arrigo Boito's own later years were relatively uneventful. He continued to be interested in politics, and became a Senator in 1912. He died in a nursing home, after having caught a chill during a religious ceremony at the church of Sant' Ambrogio in Milan.
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