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Francesco Maria Piave

Francesco Maria Piave

Francesco Maria Piave (18 May 1810 – 5 March 1876) was an Italian opera librettist who was born in Murano in the lagoon of Venice, during the brief Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy.

His career spanned over twenty years working with many of the significant composers of his day, including Giovanni Pacini (four librettos), Saverio Mercadante (at least one), Federico Ricci, and even one for Michael Balfe. He is most well known as Giuseppe Verdi's librettist, for whom he was to write 10 librettos, the most well-known being those for Rigoletto and La traviata.

But Piave was not only a librettist: he was a journalist and translator in addition to being the resident poet and stage manager at La Fenice in Venice where he first encountered Verdi. Later, Verdi was helpful in securing him the same position at La Scala in Milan.[1] His expertise as a stage manager and his tact as a negotiator served Verdi very well, but the composer bullied him mercilessly for his pains over many years.

Like Verdi, Piave was an ardent Italian patriot, and in 1848, during Milan's "Cinque Giornate," when Radetzky's Austrian troops retreated from the city, Verdi wrote to Piave in Venice addressing him as "Citizen Piave."

A marble gravestone on the wall of a crypt
Piave's grave at the Monumental Cemetery of Milan

Together, they worked on ten operas between 1844 and 1862, and Piave would have also prepared the libretto for Aida when Verdi accepted the commission for it in 1870, had he not suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed and unable to speak. Verdi helped to support his wife and daughter, proposing that "an album of pieces by famous composers be compiled and sold for Piave's benefit".[2] The composer paid for his funeral when he died nine years later in Milan aged 65 and arranged for his burial at the Monumental Cemetery.

Piave's librettos for Verdi

From the beginnings of their working relationship in 1844, scholars such as Gabriele Baldini see Verdi's overall influence upon the structure of his work take a big leap forward when he notes:

Working with Piave was Verdi's first opportunity to work with himself. [...] The composer completely dominates and enslaves the librettist, who becomes scarcely more than an instrument in his hands...[Piave's] libretti are in fact those best suited to Verdi's music [....] simply because, in detail as well as in general shape, Verdi himself composed them.[1]

This statement suggests that, almost for the first time, the composer was going to be the one who determined "that drama essentially consisted of the arrangement of pieces and the clarity of the musical forms..[so that]..he began to become aware of the structure and architecture of musical composition, something which was not even clearly hinted at during the period with Solera.[1] The composer began to control the overall dramatic arc of the drama and no longer would he "suffer under"[1] such librettists as Temistocle Solera, who wrote the libretti for five Verdi operas beginning with Oberto and up to Attila in 1846.

Caricature of Piave as "a theatrical jack-of-all-trades", after 1861

An example of the pressure which Verdi exerted on Piave was in the struggle to have the Venetian censors approve Rigoletto: "Turn Venice upside down to make the censors permit this subject"[3] he demanded, following that up with the admonition not to allow the matter to drag on: "If I were the poet I would be very, very concerned, all the more because you would be greatly responsible if by chance (may the Devil not make it happen) they should not allow this drama [to be staged]"[4]

Nonetheless, another Verdi scholar notes that "Verdi always harried him unmercifully, often having his work revised by others [as in the case of Simon Boccanegra] [but] Piave rewarded him with doglike devotion, and the two remained on terms of sincere friendship."[5] Piave became "someone Verdi loved".[6]

In following Salvadore Cammarano as Verdi's main mid-career librettist, Piave firstly wrote Ernani in 1844, and then I due Foscari (1844), Attila (1846), Macbeth (the 1847 first version), Il Corsaro (1848), Stiffelio (1850), Rigoletto (1851), La traviata (1853) Simon Boccanegra (the 1857 first version) and La forza del destino (the 1862 first version).

Librettos by Piave

Year Title[7] Composer
1842 Il duca d'Alba Pacini, GiovanniGiovanni Pacini
(Libretto also used by Giovanni Peruzzini)
1844 Ernani Verdi, GiuseppeGiuseppe Verdi
1844 I due Foscari Verdi, GiuseppeGiuseppe Verdi
1845 Lorenzino de' Medici Pacini, GiovanniGiovanni Pacini
1846 Attila Verdi, GiuseppeGiuseppe Verdi
1846 Estella di Murcia Ricci, FedericoFederico Ricci
1847 Griselda Ricci, FedericoFederico Ricci
1847 Macbeth Verdi, GiuseppeGiuseppe Verdi
1847 Tutti amanti Romani, CarloCarlo Romani
1848 Allan Cameron Pacini, GiovanniGiovanni Pacini
1848 Giovanna di Fiandra Boniforti, CarloCarlo Boniforti
1848 Il corsaro Verdi, GiuseppeGiuseppe Verdi
1848 La Schiava Saracena Mercadante, SaverioSaverio Mercadante
1850 Crispino e la comare Ricci, LuigiLuigi Ricci and Federico Ricci
1850 Elisabetta di Valois Buzzolla, AntonioAntonio Buzzolla
1850 Stiffelio Verdi, GiuseppeGiuseppe Verdi
1851 La Sposa di Murçia Casalini, AndreaAndrea Casalini
1851 Rigoletto Verdi, GiuseppeGiuseppe Verdi
1853 Baschina De Liguoro, Federico GuglielmoFederico Guglielmo De Liguoro
1853 La donna delle isole Pacini, GiovanniGiovanni Pacini
1853 La prigioniera Bosoni, Carlo ErcoleCarlo Ercole Bosoni
1853 La traviata Verdi, GiuseppeGiuseppe Verdi
1854 Margherita di Borgogna Petrocini, FrancescoFrancesco Petrocini
1854 Pittore e Duca Balfe, Michael WilliamMichael William Balfe
1856 I Fidanzati (opera) Peri, AchilleAchille Peri
1857 Aroldo (revision of Stiffelio) Verdi, GiuseppeGiuseppe Verdi
1857 Simon Boccanegra Verdi, GiuseppeGiuseppe Verdi
1857 Vittore Pisani Peri, AchilleAchille Peri
1859 Margherita la mendicante Braga, GaetanoGaetano Braga
1860 La Biscaglina Levi, SamueleSamuele Levi
1861 Guglielmo Shakspeare Benvenuti, TomasoTomaso Benvenuti
1862 La forza del destino Verdi, GiuseppeGiuseppe Verdi
1862 Mormile Braga, GaetanoGaetano Braga
1862 Rienzi Peri, AchilleAchille Peri
1865 La Duchessa di Guisa Serrao, PaoloPaolo Serrao
1865 Macbeth (revised version) Verdi, GiuseppeGiuseppe Verdi
1865 Rebecca Pisani, BartolomeoBartolomeo Pisani
1867 Berta di Varnol Pacini, GiovanniGiovanni Pacini
1867 Don Diego de Mendoza Pacini, GiovanniGiovanni Pacini
1868 La tombola Cagnoni, AntonioAntonio Cagnoni
1872 Olema Pedrotti, CarloCarlo Pedrotti



  1. ^ a b c d Baldini 1970, pp. 70 - 74
  2. ^ Werfel and Stefan 1973, p. 262, referring to a letter of 1 August 1869 from Verdi to publisher Léon Escudier requesting him to furnish his own contribution to the album
  3. ^ Verdi to Piave, 6 May 1850, in Phillips-Matz 1993, p. 265
  4. ^ Verdi to Piave, 29 November 1850, in Phillips-Matz 1993, p. 270
  5. ^ Black 1998, p. 999
  6. ^ Phiilips-Matz 1993, p. 644
  7. ^ List of operas for which Piave wrote the libretto taken from Retrieved 9 September 2013


  • Baldini, Gabriele (1970), (trans. Roger Parker, 1980), The Story of Giuseppe Verdi: Oberto to Un Ballo in Maschera. Cambridge, et al: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-29712-5
  • Black, John (1998), "Piave, Francesco Maria" in Stanley Sadie, (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Three, pp. 999. London: MacMillan Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5
  • Budden, Julian (1996), Verdi. New York: Schirmer Books (Master Musicians Series). ISBN 0028646169 ISBN 9780028646169
  • Kimball, David (2001), in Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-140-29312-4
  • O'Grady, Deidre (2000), Piave, Boito, Pirandello: From Romantic Realism to Modernism (Studies in Italian Literature). Edwin Mellon Press. ISBN 978-0-7734-7703-2 ISBN 0-7734-7703-9
  • Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane (1993), Verdi: A Biography, London & New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-313204-4
  • Werfel, Franz and Stefan, Paul (1973), Verdi: The Man and His Letters, New York: Vienna House. ISBN 0-8443-0088-8
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