Opera Librettist (1857-1919)
Luigi Illica, a journalist and talented poet, was part of the scapigliatura (a Bohemian movement) in Milan. Perhaps as a result of his father's influence, he was also a solicitor of radical-republican orientation. Even as a child, he demonstrated a somewhat lively and rebellious temperament. He went to secondary school in Piacenza, but achieved poor results and the time he later spent in a college in Cremona did not prove to be a productive period either.
At about the age of twenty he left his home town, Castell'Arquato, in the province of Piacenza, to join the navy. After serving for four years, during which time he took part in the Battle of Plevna against the Turks, he took up residence in Milan in 1879. There he initially found work with a literary newspaper run by his cousin Carlo Mascaretti and later became a reporter with the Corriere della Sera. Shortly afterwards, he moved to Bologna where ,with Luigi Lodi and Giuseppe Barbanti-Brodanoan, he founded Don Chisciotte, an extremely radical newspaper inspired by Giosuè Carducci. This newspaper was suspended after Illica and Lodi appeared before a court in Bologna as a result of their participation in anti-French demonstrations.
In 1882, after he had returned to Milan, Illica began to publish his work (prose, sketches and satirical verse) under the pseudonym of Luigi della Scorziana. In the following years, he became successful as a playwright, even though he had actually made his debut at the Teatro Filodrammatico some years before (in 1875) in his home town with the one-act play Hassan. However, it was not until 1886 that his fame as a playwright really became established, reaching its zenith in 1891 with the staging of L'Eredità del felis. It was considered to be his masterpiece.
From 1889, Luigi Illica worked both as a playwright and as an opera librettist. The latter occupation was new to him, but led to a very intense period of work, the successfulness of which peaked in 1891, when he began collaborating with Casa Ricordi. Over the following two decades, Illica wrote about thirty libretti for the best composers of the time, including Germania (1902) and Siberia (1903) for Giordano, Iris (1898) and Isabeau (1911) for Mascagni and La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), Madama Butterfly (1904) - 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, however, a serious fall from a horse obliged him to return permanently to Colombarone, his property in the countryside neighbouring Castell'Arquato, where he died on December 16th, 1919.