A Look At Luigi Illica’s Obscure Libretti For Composers Not Named Puccini

By David Salazar

Luigi Illica is a rather famous man in the world of opera.

If you don’t believe me, then look at his body of work. “Manon Lescaut,” “La Bohème,” “Tosca,” “Madama Butterfly.” And those are just the Puccini selections. The librettist also authored such prominent opera works as “La Wally” and “Andrea Chénier.”

But the majority of Illica’s output has been largely forgotten. He wrote a whopping 32 operas and is remembered for six. Today, on the event of his May 9 birthday, we delve into other operas that he created the words for.

Mascagni Operas

While Mascagni came into Illica’s life in the middle of his career as a librettist, he authored three different libretti for the composer of “Cavalleria Rusticana.” Of course, the iconic work is not among his works, but Illica did write the second most famous opera by Mascagni, “Iris.” They all differed greatly in style. While Iris, which he wrote in 1898, immersed audiences in the Verismo style, his 1901 work, “Le Maschere,” was an homage to Rossini.

The final opera that saw Illica collaborate with Mascagni was the 1911 work “Isabeau,” which retold the story of a medieval English legend.

Franchetti Operas

Another composer that Illica wrote regularly for was Franchetti. The duo collaborated on three operas. The first was “Cristofo Colombo,” which was written to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in America.

Illica also wrote “Germania,” Franchetti’s most famous opera. Ironically, Illica had given Franchetti the libretto for “Tosca,” but the composer refused the work. Instead, he received “Germania’s” libretto from Illica. That opera was premiered by Arturo Toscanini with Enrico Caruso.

The duo’s final collaboration was “Giove a Pompei” which was a collaboration between Franchetti and Giordano.

Giordano Operas

Speaking of Giordano, Illica also wrote “Andrea Chénier” and “Siberia,” which many believe was based on Leo Tolstoy’s “Resurrection.”

Smareglia Operas

Another composer that received three librettos from Illica was Antonio Smareglia. In fact, the librettists first oeuvre was the 1884 opera “Il vassal di Szegith.” “Cornelius Schütt” and “Nozze istriane” were his other two collaborations with Smareglia.

Other Collaborations

The librettist wrote two operas for Luporini (“I dispetti amorosi” and “La collana di pasqua”), two for Gnecchi (“Casandra” and “Judith”), two for Mascheroni (“Lorenza” and “La Perugina”), two for Panizza (“Medioevo Latino” and “Aurora”) and single works for a number of other Italian composers. Among them was “Il Principe Zilah” of Franco Alfano.




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