Composer Profile: Arrigo Boito, Renaissance Man

By David Salazar

Arrigo Boito, born on Feb. 24, 1842, was what one could consider a Renaissance Man of the 19th century. He was a poet, journalist, novelist, librettist, and composer and many of his works in those diverse disciplines remain fixtures of the operatic canon.

He initially set out to be a musician, studying at the Milan Conservatory. He then fought in the Seven Weeks war and would eventually work as director at the Parma Conservatory between 1889 and 1897. He also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge.

He did not compose a lot of music, leaving only one opera, “Mefistofele,” completed. He died on June 10, 1918.

Signature Works

Boito’s creative powers as a composer climaxed with “Mefistofele,” an opera that has found its way in and out of the repertory over the decades. The work is an adaptation of Goethe’s “Faust,” but unlike Gounod and Berlioz’s more famed operatic adaptations, Boito’s also includes a section from Part two of the work.

And while “Mefistofele” remains a vital opera in the repertory, one might argue that Boito’s most prominent impact in the opera world comes down to two libretti that he not only wrote, but also fought for. They are, of course, the libretti for Verdi’s “Otello” and “Falstaff.” Those two masterpieces have retained a strong place in the repertory since their inception and still remain the true apex of Boito’s creative genius in the opera world.

Read More on Boito

The Major Libretti of Boito

More on “Mefistofele”

How Boito Made Religion and Faith A Central Theme in “Otello”

Watch and Listen

Check out this performance of “Mefistofele” from San Francisco.


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