From July 17, in the setting of the village of Castell'Arquato, on the hills of Val d'Arda, the celebrations in honor of the librettist and playwright Luigi Illica begin. On the gala evening of Saturday 24 July, the VIII annual edition of the Illica Festival and the XXXII biennial edition of the Luigi Illica Prize

Castell'Arquato celebrates its most illustrious son, Luigi Illica, librettist and playwright, with a full-bodied musical program and more. Soldier, liberal and republican journalist, duelist, lover of beautiful women and good wine: these are just some of the many souls of Luigi Illica that the Piacenza village returns to celebrate. Librettist of great operas such as Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni, Umberto Giordano, he has created with them the most famous titles of melodrama from Tosca to La Bohème, from Madama Butterfly to Andrea Chénier.

Castell'Arquato, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy

The 2021 edition, which has Fabrizio Cassi as the artistic and musical director, offers a program with a renewed formula, enriched before the gala evening on 24 July: Illicamente Saturday 17 and Tuesday 20 July at the Parco delle Driadi, in collaboration with the Conservatorio Giuseppe Nicolini di Piacenza directed by Walter Casali, proposes two concerts that anticipate the Festival and introduce a younger audience to the opera tradition; Sunday 18 July, at the Parco delle Driadi, a conversation between Mariateresa Dellaborra, expert musicologist and holder of the Chair of History of Music at the G. Nicolini Conservatorio, and Giangiacomo Schiavi, journalist and writer, on the figure of Luigi Illica journalist, writer and operatic librettist.

Fabrizio Cassi,
curator of the Festival.
The intent is to focus the figure of Illica in its multifaceted aspects within the nineteenth-century cultural world. Librettist, writer, journalist and tied to his roots and ideals. The conference on Sunday 18 and the evening of July 24 are designed to highlight the intrinsic value of opera librettos. At each chosen act by Andrea Chénier, Madama Butterfly, Bohème there will be recitatives by the actor Giorgio Melazzi, which will reveal the beauty and musicality of his work. It is Illica who transforms the language of opera into prose that can be appreciated even with simple reading. (Fabrizio Cassi, artistic director of the Festival)"

Bold choices

Walter Casali is the director of the Giuseppe Nicolini Conservatorio of Piacenza, who in this edition of the Illica Festival participates with two unmissable concerts. For the audacity of the musical choices: a repertoire ranging from the historic to the contemporary twentieth century, ideal for enthusiasts but also for a less prepared audience. And for the unusual: the Percussion Ensemble conducted by Maestro Loris Stefanuto for Saturday 17 July and the wind quintet for Tuesday 20 July, in the Parco delle Driadi in Castell’Arquato at 9.00 pm.

These are bold choices: we let Walter Casali explain them to us.

“Now we are there: it was a year of preparatory work, of which I am very happy for several reasons. Our presence at the Illica Festival in Castell’Arquato has great value for me. Our work has a lot of significance for the communities of this territory and manages to have an important and measurable cultural impact. The task of the Conservatory is also to disseminate musical awareness, intrigue the public.

Is it a repertoire suitable for all audiences?

“The Festival is followed by a heterogeneous audience. Opera obviously collects more attention, in this area it is known and loved. But we want to carry on the educational mission of the Conservatory and create opportunities for listening and knowledge for all. Also for the less known and less widespread instrumental music. It is a display of unusual instruments to intrigue and show something precious ”.

Does the choice of percussion correspond to this idea?

“There are rare and little known instruments in the Percussion Ensemble. And the program favors contemporary and modern musicians, who appreciate percussion and have created a broad repertoire, which gives ample possibilities for expression. The Saturday night concert has an exciting, cheerful, engaging note, suitable for everyone. In this sense it is undoubtedly an event that will contribute to intrigue and excite ”.

While the horns of the concert on July 20 are for a more refined audience?

“Here too the selected repertoire belongs to the twentieth century. There is Astor Piazzolla, whose centenary is celebrated this year. There are pieces by Nino Rota, Ibert and Bozza. The winds, however, evoke more intimate, reflective atmospheres and invite to a meditative listening. But it is an opportunity to witness the performance of a rare quintet, consisting of horn, oboe, clarinet, flute and bassoon, which performs original or transcribed scores. The intent is to avoid re-proposing and returning to the community of nineteenth-century modes and repertoires. It is one of the objectives of the Conservatory, useful for awakening almost innate skills and passions in the Italian public.

Luigi Illica, a multi tasking personality

Gian Giacomo Schiavi, a Corriere della Sera journalist, defines himself as a “stowaway on board” of the Festival. On the evening of 18 July, in the gardens of the Giuseppe Cortesi Geological Museum in Castell’Arquato, he will mediate a conversation with the musicologist Mariateresa Dellaborra on the figure of Illica the writer. “I was called to try to read something unusual about Illica. Mariateressa Della Borra is certainly more competent than me: I will take a look at Illica, the eclectic bohemian journalist and writer. A variegated and multifaceted man, today we would say multi tasking.

Does he give us a preview?

"There is an aspect that is not well known about Illica in her role as a journalist for Corriere della Sera and founder of Don Quixote, a Bolognese newspaper. In this capacity, Illica interprets what were the characteristics of Risorgimento journalism, vigorous, of denunciation, of criticism. He is a prelude to the versatility of Puccini's librettos, which are the most popular works. Then there is another element of discovery, which is Andrea Chénier's solitary writing, a tale akin to the Renaissance period: a world that cultivated a libertarian and egalitarian spirit. One fine day we'll see… it's a push for ideals to be rediscovered. The work at that time was something extraordinary, a social representation with values ​​and inspiring contents ".

Which audience is opera aimed at today?

“Perhaps it is interesting to re-read and rediscover something beyond conventional definitions. The idea is not to stop at the ritual image of the librettist with a starched collar and top hat, but to go and see these characters and their particular stories. Illica who works as a ship boy and then becomes an intellectual, a writer, a journalist. He gives an idea of ​​the complexity of life and the stubbornness that leads to the fulfillment of the will. The work seems like something for initiates, which excludes young people. But it should be explained and told anew. If you interpret the musical construction alongside the narrative one, you will find sections of an era to be explored because it is exciting, the foundation of our country. A moment in which an Italian identity is built linked to a history, culture and heroism that is sometimes tragic, but also liberal, unconventional, loving. So much so that we still use adjectives that come down to us intact, like bohème. When the new succeeds in making a jewel of the past, then the miracle of updating the past and making it alive again takes place ”.

What will you talk about with Mariateresa Dellaborra?

"We will talk about the figure of the librettists in the nineteenth century, how they contributed to making the country less provincial. Manon Lescaut, Tosca, La Bohème. These are all works that immediately bring Italy to international dimensions. Mariateresa Dellaborra will tell all this. And the difficult relationship between librettists and composers, the need to change codes and language. The people followed the opera, identified themselves. The language then united the bel canto to the music, to the plot. There was a contagious passion, which related the different social classes. The people entered the gallery and had a weight in criticism, they were feared. Opera was a meeting point open to all. Perhaps it could go back to that if it opened up to a small revolution ”.

What did your research work in the archives of Corriere della Sera reveal about Luigi Illica?

I found many articles written for the Corriere Teatrale, the pages dedicated to the shows. But above all I found his crocodile, the farewell of 1919 written by Renato Simoni, the father of Italian theater criticism. He makes an extraordinary portrait of him, he speaks of Illica as a musketeer. And he confirms my impression of a Gascon character, rebellious. This way of presenting him, picturesque, with great stories. A swashbuckling man: even Simoni tells of a duel whose godfather was Giosuè Carducci. We can imagine a singular battle for some heated discussion. A character of the Lombard bohème, who lives and works in the same journalistic vein as Felice Cavallotti.

An intellectual capable of challenging the antagonists to a duel. His biography seems adventurous ...

He had arrived in Milan in the early 1880s to seek his fortune. He is part of that legion of dreamers who moved to Milan challenging their origins, in search of the big city. Illica is completely penniless, despite the fact that he comes from a family that is not poor after all. He is like a fictional hero. He stayed at a cobbler's house and in winter he burned the wooden models of his shoes to keep warm. At a time when bills of exchange were also signed for two cigars, Illica was the king of gimmicks and stories at Caffè Manzoni. Lively, controversial, exuberant. Simoni describes him as "the writer with a whirlwind fantasy, a blue eye and an irritated eyebrow".

Can we define Luigi Illica as a writer?

He is a failed writer, he missed the work of literature. He was a fruitful author, with a feverish activity. He started making opera librettos almost like a second choice, perhaps he was more attracted to comedy, fiction. Yet he wrote masterpieces. He was looking for real melodrama, in life and in the novel. Before dying he sent letters to friends in which he told of a new work inspired by the Aeneid, on the origins of Italy. He was a true man of his time, free when freedom meant above all to get involved with the lively and belligerent minds of the time, committed to laying the foundations of modernity.

Saturday 24 July in the Town Hall square, the VIII Illica Festival and the XXXII biennial edition of the Luigi Illica Prize, with the awarding of established and emerging artists and personalities from the world of culture. Eugenia Ratti Memorial Award, Italian soprano; awarded Maria Agresta, soprano; Maisuradze Badri, Georgian tenor and Minister of Culture; Cristina Ferrari, artistic and musical director of the Municipal Theater Foundation of Piacenza; Orchestra Toscanini, in the person of Carla di Francesco, president or, alternatively, Alberto Triola, superintendent and artistic director; Illica d'Oro award: Monica Maggioni, journalist and columnist.

During the evening, acts and pages chosen from Illica's production will be performed: Terzo Atto della Bohème, Libretto by L. Illica and G. Giacosa / music by G. Puccini; Selected pages by Andrea Chénier, Libretto by L. Illica / music by U. Giordano; Third Act of Madama Butterfly, Libretto by L. Illica and G. Giacosa / music by G. Puccini. Among the artists, on stage: Yao Bohui, Renata Campanella, Cristina Melis, Claudio Sgura, Marta Torbidoni, Angelo Villari.

Presents the evening Mara Pedrabissi, journalist and head of the Entertainment page of the Gazzetta di Parma. The set-up includes video mapping and projections. The cast is made up of excellences of the music scene, accompanied by the Bazzini Consort Orchestra of Brescia. Each act will be introduced by the actor Giorgio Melazzi who, in the guise of Illica, will read verses from the librettos of the opera to highlight the beauty and musicality of the text that is not so exalted with music: Illica's librettos can easily be represented in prose.

Entrance to the gala evening is possible about one hour before the scheduled start at 20.00. For information and tickets:,,

The event is organized by the Municipality of Castell’Arquato with the collaboration of the Pro Loco and the support of the Piacenza and Vigevano Foundation and the Emilia Romagna Region. Media partner of the Interni event, the interiors and contemporary design magazine of the Mondadori Group directed by Gilda Bojardi. Sponsor: Mediolanum.