Opera Librettist (1857-1919)
Luigi Illica, Journalist, and talented Versifier, was part of the scapigliatura (Bohemian movement) in Milan, and, maybe as a result of being influenced by his father, a solicitor of radical-republican orientation, demonstrated a rather lively and rebellious temperament even as a boy. He went to secondary school in Piacenza, but achieved poor results. The time he spent in the college in Cremona didn't turn out to be very worthwhile either.
Around the age of twenty he left his home town, Castell'Arquato in the province of Piacenza, to board a ship and go sailing. After sailing for four years, during which he participated in the Battle of Plevna against the Turks, he took up residence in Milan in 1879 where he found work initially with a literary newspaper which was run by his cousin Carlo Mascaretti. He later became a reporter with the Corriere della Sera. Shortly after, he moved to Bologna, where, along with Luigi Lodi and Giuseppe Barbanti-Brodano he founded Don Chisciotte, an extremely radical newspaper inspired by Giosuè Carducci. This newspaper was suspended when Illica and Lodi, as a result of their participation in the anti-French demonstrations, had to appear before a correctional court in Bologna.
In 1882, once he had returned to Milan, Illica began to publish his works (prose, drafts, satirical verses) under the pseudonym of Luigi della Scorziana. In the following years he obtained his first successes as author of theatrical texts, even if he had actually already made his debut at the Teatro Filodrammatico in 1875 in his home town with the one-act play Hassan. It was only, however, from 1886 that his fame as a playwright became more established to the point of climaxing in 1891, when L'Eredità del Felis was staged. It was considered to be his masterpiece.
From 1889 Luigi Illica worked both as a playwright and as an opera librettist. The latter occupation which was new to him led to a very intense period of work in his life and his growing success peaked in 1891 when he began to work with Casa Ricordi. Over the following two decades Illica wrote more or less thirty libretti for the best musicians of the era, the following being among the most important; Germania (1902) and Siberia (1903) for Giordano, Iris (1898) and Isabeau (1911) for Mascagni, La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), Madama Butterfly (1904) in collaboration with Giacosa and Manon Lescaut (1891-1892) for Giacomo Puccini.
The First World War revived his patriotic enthusiasm and in 1915, at the age of 58, he left for the front enrolling in the army as a volunteer. The following year a terrible fall from a horse obliged him, however, to return for good to Colombarone, his property in the countryside neighbouring Castell'Arquato, where he died on December 16th, 1919.
Apart from his main activity as a writer and comedy writer, Giacosa will also be remembered for his great contribution to the drafting of important operatic texts.
His initial training underwent prevailing influences from his father who guided him in the direction of law studies, he himself being an important magistrate. After having finished his degree in 1868, Giacosa started his apprenticeship in his father's law firm: it was actually in these years that the young man had the opportunity to be part of the literary world in Turin, making friends with many writers such as Sacchetti, Boito and Camerana, who were associated with the "Dante Alighieri" society.
His first real debut as a writer came about when he wrote "proverbi drammatici" Non dir Quattro se non l'hai nel sacco, but it was only in 1870 that Giacosa managed to become moderately successful with scripts generally written in martelliano verse, nostalgically evoking an ideal and picturesque image of the middle ages. Other important works worth mentioning, apart from his first and really successful opera Una partita a scacchi (1873), a comedy in verse with a medieval setting, are Il Trionfo dell'Amore (1875), Fratello d'Armi (1887) and Il marito amante della moglie (1876), the only piece influenced by the Goldoni style. In the same period Giacosa began to adventure into journalism, writing for newspapers and magazines.
In 1888 Giacosa moved to Milan, where he was not only entrusted with the position of Director of the School of recitation in amateur dramatics, but also assigned a teaching post in literary drama and recitation at the Conservatory. Only when some of his theatrical texts began to be successful, did he leave teaching to dedicate himself to writing for the theatre full time. In this period Giacosa wrote texts with a naturalistic orientation inspired by current affair topics, like, for example, one of his masterpieces Tristi Amori (1887), but he quickly moderated the oppressiveness of naturalisism and used a more crepuscular tone, which can be found in Come le Foglie, where the influence of Ibsen is present to a small extent but more explicitly present in I Diritti dell'Anima (1904) and Il più forte (1904).
Apart from these theatrical texts, which made him one of the most significant writers of the late 1900s, it is important to mention some of his collections of stories Novelle e paesi valdostana, 1886, but most of all the libretti written in collaboration with Luigi Illica for Puccini's most famous operas: La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1899) and Madama Butterfly (1903). Giuseppe Giacosa died in Turin in 1906.