Arrigo Bo´to

Librettist and composer. Also known as "Tobia Gorrio". Born 1842-02-24 in Padua. Died 1918-06-10 in Milan.

Wrote libretto for:

Italian librettist, composer, poet and critic. He is best remembered for his one completed opera, Mefistofele, and for his collaborations as librettist with Verdi.

The literary quality of Boito's librettos follows an ascending scale from those he wrote for composers other than Verdi, through Otello and Falstaff, to those he supplied for himself. It was consistent with his belief that a libretto should be notable as drama that his first effort, Amleto, for Faccio, was drawn from Shakespeare. Boito's strengths and weaknesses are already evident: his ability to simplify a complicated plot and the variety of his poetic language, as well as his penchant for obscure polysyllables, his faulty sense of overall proportion, and his tendency to overstress contrasts of good and evil. Ero e Leandro, originally intended for himself, experiments with classical metres and embodies considerable antiquarian lore. Semira, for Luigi San Germano, was withdrawn in rehearsal and never performed. Basi e bote, a comedy in Venetian dialect, dates from 1887, but was not set until 1927, by Pick-Mangiagalli. Ir?m was intended for Dominiceti, who did not set it; it is a pithy comedy with foreshadowings of Falstaff (e.g. "Il mondo ? un trillo"). Pier Luigi Farnese, for Costantino Palumbo (1843-1928), is more intense and more vividly characterized than the other librettos in this group. The best-known of Boito's texts for composers other than Verdi is that for Ponchielli's La Gioconda, loosely derived from Hugo's Angelo. Boito changed the setting to Venice and introduced a good deal of local colour, and the flamboyant melodramatic tone faithfully mirrors Hugo's style. The characterization is anything but subtle.

Otello, the first of Boito's completed librettos for Verdi, has perhaps been overpraised. While undeniably a formidable achievement, the reduction of Shakespeare's text to operatic proportions was not as skilful as is usually maintained. Boito drastically altered Iago's motivation; Rodrigo's participation in the plot is inadequately developed; and the decisive fact of Cassio's survival is glossed over. That the libretto is finely proportioned is due more to Verdi's influence than to Boito. Nor was Boito's treatment as Shakespearean as is sometimes claimed. (Francis Hueffer's translation in the Ricordi scores has deceived more than one critic.) Laws of heresy in Shakespeare's day forbade specific Christian references on stage, yet many of Boito's changes and additions (the "Credo" and the "Ave Maria") insert these once-proscribed references. Boito's Falstaff is more extraordinary, perhaps because he was working from a lesser play. His fondness for word-play, his knack for hitting upon an epigrammatic phrase and his mordant irony all found full scope. He seems less strained than in Otello, and the result is exhilarating and beautifully paced.

The 1868 libretto of Mefistofele is more interesting as a literary document than as a potential text for music. The condensed version of 1875 sheds most of its novel features but is full of verbal felicities. The prologue, common to both versions, is without precedent in Italian operatic dramaturgy for its metrical variety and grandiose scope. Nerone exists in two versions: in five acts, as in the printed libretto of 1901, and in four acts, as in the printed score. The excised fifth act, for which Boito sketched music, presents Nero playing Aeschylus's Orestes while Rome burns. The four-act version ends with the death of the Christian convert Rubria. All in all, Nerone possesses great originality, vividly contrasting pagan magic, imperial corruption and Christian caritas. It is arguably Boito's finest achievement.