Luigi Illica

Librettist. Born 1857-05-09 in Piacenza. Died 1919-12-16 in Piacenza.

Wrote libretto for:

Italian librettist. At an early age he ran away to sea; in 1876 he fought against the Turks. Three years later he settled in Milan and became well known in literary circles. An ardent republican, he was associated with the poet Giosue Carducci on a radical literary review. In 1882 he produced a collection of prose sketches, Farfalle, effetti di luce, and the following year wrote his first play, I Narbonnier-Latour, in collaboration with Ferdinando Fontana. His greatest success in this field was a comedy in Milanese dialect, L'eriditaa di Felis (1891).

Illica's activity as a librettist began in 1889 with the crudely melodramatic Il vassallo di Szigeth written for Smareglia. The association with Puccini began in 1892, when Leoncavallo suggested that Illica complete the much tormented libretto of Manon Lescaut. As much of Domenico Oliva's work remained in the final text, including the entire fourth act, Illica tactfully withheld his name from the title-page, and the libretto was published without an attribution. In Puccini's next three operas -- La Boh?me, Tosca and Madama Butterfly -- Illica worked in partnership with the playwright Giacosa, who versified the dialogue that his colleague had drafted out. When Giacosa died in 1906 Puccini turned to other librettists, though he continued to keep Illica employed on the book of Maria Antonietta which he never set; his failure to do so led to a permanent breach between them.

Illica's 35 librettos run the gamut of contemporary fashions, from near- verismo to historical drama, from art nouveau symbolism to evocations of the commedia dell'arte, and range as far afield as an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbevilles. Though negligible as literature, they show considerable stage sense as well as invention (he was one of the earliest librettists to devise his own plots, as in Andrea Chenier and Siberia). He was especially skilful with what could be termed the 'dynamic' or 'kinetic' ensemble during which the action moves forward (e.g. the roll-call of the prostitutes in Manon Lescaut, the Cafe Momus scene in La Boh?me, the parade of the People's Representatives in Andrea Chenier). Above all he was instrumental in breaking down the rigid system of Italian operatic metres into lines of irregular length, which Giacosa jokingly referred to as 'illicasillabi' but which were eminently suited to the prevailing musical style.