Arrigo Boito may have completed only one opera, but his work as a composer and librettist has left a lasting impression on the world of classical music. Born in Padua, he was raised in Venice after his painter father deserted the family. After graduating from the Milan Conservatory in 1862, Boito and fellow composer Franco Faccio were awarded grants to travel abroad for a year. While in Paris, they met Verdi, who gave Boito the opportunity to write the text for the cantata, "Inno delle nazioni." Their relationship soured the next year, however, when Boito read his notorious ode, "All'arte italiano." The elder Verdi felt personally affronted by Boito's call to cleanse Italia opera, which he claimed had been "stained like the external walls of a brothel."
After volunteering in Garibaldi's campaign during the Seven Weeks War of 1866, Boito began work in earnest on "Mefistofele," its composition delayed due to the success of Gounod's "Faust" in 1862. Boito's initial take on the Faustian legend was a flop, its premier at La Scala jeered to a close after only two performances, but a successful performance of the prologue a few years later caused him to revisit the work. After extensive changes, "Mefistofele" was positively received in Bologna in 1875, making its way triumphantly back to La Scala by 1881.
It wasn't until 1879 that Verdi gave Boito a chance at redemption, inviting him to revise the libretto for "Simon Boccanegra." A positive reception at La Scala launched a fruitful friendship between the two composers, who collaborated on three operas. In addition to libretto writing, Boito made a practice of helping struggling young composers, including Puccini. However, he struggled with his own compositions, fiddling indecisively with the score of his second opera, "Nerone," until his death.
-- Arielle Basile