Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi, cover of the libretto, second version, 1881
La bohème by Giacomo Puccini, page from the handwritten libretto with autograph annotations by Luigi Illica and Giacomo Puccini
Iris by Pietro Mascagni, cover of the libretto, artwork by Adolf Hohenstein, 1898
Detail of the libretto with annotations by Giulio Ricordi about the audience’s reactions at the premiere of Otello by Giuseppe Verdi, 1887
Madama butterfly by Giacomo Puccini, libretto of the world premiere, Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 1904

The Archivio Storico Ricordi has an extensive collection of libretti. Five groups can be discerned in the collection: manuscript libretti, typed libretti, printed libretti from the early 17th century, printed libretti that were not set to music, and drafts. Duplicates of printed libretti are often found, some of which served as the publisher’s notebook during the performance and contain his observations about the staging and audience reactions.
The libretto, an object of discussion since the birth of opera, has repeatedly been evaluated differently over four centuries of opera history. Given the large inventory in the archive, there can really no longer be any doubt about the role of the libretto, though this does mark a convergence of mercantile and artistic factors: the acquisition of the rights to a libretto was often the first step in the production of an opera; not having a good libretto was a reason not to produce an opera.
The ongoing indexing of the Archivio Storico Ricordi’s important libretto collection, its cataloguing and structuring, provides an invaluable new resource for libretto research. This will result in new emphases regarding the preferred material and texts, but also regarding the development of the language of the libretto.
A thorough new cataloguing of this part of the collection is still underway.