Arrigo Boito was an Italian writer, librettist and composer. Son of Silvestro Boito and younger brother of Camillo, is known above all for his opera libretti, considered among the greatest masterpieces of the genre, and for his melodrama Mefistofele.
After his elementary studies in Venice, from 1853 he studied violin, piano and composition at the Milan Conservatory, a pupil of Alberto Mazzucato, giving early proof of liberation from musical conventions and opening to innovative cultures across the Alps with the cantata Il quattro giugno (1860 ) and with the mystery The Sisters of Italy (1861), of whom he also wrote the poetic text, immediately proposing himself in the double role of poet-musician.
In 1861, as soon as he graduated, he obtained a scholarship and, with his brotherly brother and friend Franco Faccio, he went to Paris. In the French capital he met, among others, Rossini, Berlioz and Verdi. For the latter he wrote the poetic text of the Hymn of Nations, performed at the Universal Exposition in London.
In 1862, left Paris for Poland, home of his mother (Countess Józefa Radolinska, who died in 1859), he wrote his first booklet, Hamlet, from the homonymous Shakespeare tragedy, for the music of Faccio.
Back in Milan, he became friends with Emilio Praga and joined the Scapigliatura literary movement, of which he was one of the leading exponents. In this period he composed several poems, then partly collected in the Book of the verses (1877), and published what is generally considered his most original work, the poem King Bear (1864), a disquieting and hideous fable in the form of reckless polymer. (composition with verses of various sizes). He was also very active, collaborating with various Milanese publications, as a critic and reviewer of theatrical and musical performances. In some articles, especially those published on the Figaro (a magazine he founded and directed in 1864), he expressed his own principles of reform of the Italian melodrama, to a certain extent similar to those of Wagner (composer with whom Boito, however, he had a very problematic relationship, fluctuating between enthusiastic admiration and vehement rejection).
In 1864, together with other "lovers of good music", he promoted the foundation of the Milan Quartet Society.
After some years of intense work (interrupted only in 1866, when Faccio joined the body of Garibaldi's volunteers during the Third War of Independence) in 1868 he had the grandiose musical drama Mefistofele performed at La Scala, which condensed the whole Faust by Goethe. At his debut the opera, accused of Wagnerism, was greeted by a resounding fiasco; after just two performances, due to the riots that occurred repeatedly in the theater, it was decided to stop the performances.
Boito subsequently revised and drastically reduced the score (among other things, the part of Faust, originally for baritone, was rewritten by tenor). The new version, represented in 1875 at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, obtained enormous success in Italy as well as abroad and, unique among the compositions of Boito, entered the repertoire of the works still represented and recorded with greater frequency.
After the fiasco of the first Mefistofele, Boito devoted himself mainly to the composition of booklets, almost always signed with the anagrammatic pseudonym Tobia Gorrio. They remember La Gioconda for Amilcare Ponchielli, Ero and Leandro written for himself in 1871 but later sold to Giovanni Bottesini, Pier Luigi Farnese for Costantino Palumbo, La scythe for Alfredo Catalani and Un tramonto for Gaetano Coronaro.
For Giuseppe Verdi, with whom, however, sharp differences had arisen in 1863 because of an offensive ode (To the health of Italian Art), wrote Othello (1887) and Falstaff (1893), both by Shakespeare, and modified considerably the Simon Boccanegra (1881). During the long collaboration, despite the unpleasant past, between the two, in addition to mutual respect, a deep and sincere friendship was born.
From 1887 to 1898 Boito had an intense relationship with the famous actress Eleonora Duse (the meetings took place, among other things, in Ivrea, near the castle of San Giuseppe, home of the common friend Giuseppe Bianchi), and translated the dramas for her Shakespearians Antonio and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.
From 1890 to 1891 he was honorary director of the Parma Conservatory (for this reason the Parmigiana institution bears his name). In 1893 he was awarded an honorary degree in music by the University of Cambridge, and in 1912 he was appointed senator of the Kingdom.
From his youth he worked on the composition of the lyrical tragedy that engaged him throughout his life, the Nero, a great historical fresco in five acts with markedly decadent features; in 1901, shaken by the death of Verdi, he published the literary text (which was a true publishing success), but - overcome by doubts and self-criticism - failed to complete the score, despite the suppression of the entire fifth act. He died in 1918, for angina pectoris, and was buried in the monumental cemetery of Milan.
The Nerone, complete in the score but not entirely instrumented, was later integrated into the orchestration by Arturo Toscanini, Antonio Smareglia and Vincenzo Tommasini, who tried to follow the indications and annotations that Boito had left. With an unparalleled expectation (the public had been waiting for the work for decades), the tragedy was first performed at La Scala on 1 May 1924: greeted by an authentic triumph, the performances yielded a record cash from the Milanese theater. . After a period of frequent performances, since the fifties the second musical drama of Boito, also because of the prohibitive costs of its staging, has been represented less and less, although there are a good number of recordings, even in the studio.