Francesco Maria Piave

Librettist. Born 1810-05-18 in Murano. Died 1876-03-05 in Milan.

Wrote libretto for:

Italian librettist. The son of a glass-maker, he studied for the church before obtaining employment as a proofreader. On the failure of his father's business he went to Rome, where he joined a literary circle that included the librettist Jacopo Ferretti, with whom he remained on close terms. He returned to his old position in Venice in 1838, and in 1842 wrote a libretto, Don Marzio, for Samuel Levi, but it was not performed. He also provided the third act of Pacini's Il duca d'Alba, which Giovanni Peruzzini had been prevented by illness from completing. The autograph survives, heavily corrected by the composer. Piave was recommended to Verdi by Count Mocenigo, and there began a long and successful collaboration from Ernani (1844) to La forza del destino (1862). Following a period as poet and stage director at La Fenice, Piave moved in 1859 to Milan, where on Verdi's recommendation he obtained the corresponding position at La Scala. On 5 December 1867, on the way to La Scala for a rehearsal, he suffered a stroke which deprived him of speech and movement; he lingered on for nine years in this condition, leaving unfinished a libretto (Vico Bentivoglio) for Ponchielli.

Verdi was initially unsure of Piave's abilities and always harried him unmercifully, often having his work revised by others; Piave rewarded him with doglike devotion, and the two remained on terms of sincere friendship. He was frequently summoned to Verdi's side, and they worked together on librettos. Both Verdi and his wife came generously to Piave's aid in his last years.

Throughout his career Piave wrote for many other composers, some well known like Pacini, but most of them insignificant. There is, however, a wide gulf between Piave's Verdian and non-Verdian librettos. Most of the latter are of poor quality and, with the possible exception of Elisabetta di Valois (Antonio Buzzolla, 1850; a precursor of Don Carlos) and the extraordinary black comedy Crispino e la comare (Luigi and Federico Ricci, 1850), might almost have come from another hand: both dramatic tension and crispness of versification are absent. Verdi, however, used to give Piave explicit instructions on what he wanted, and often wrote out in prose the passages he needed to have versified. Piave had a wide vocabulary and a facile pen, and an uncanny ability for turning Verdi's drafts into verse with an economy of words that satisfied Verdi's insistence on brevity and provided him with the striking, illuminating expressions he sought. It was Piave's willingness to meet Verdi's detailed requirements which provided the basis of their work together, and it is on this partnership that his reputation as a librettist must rest.