The Wordsmiths - Piave and Dumas
Francesco Maria Piave was born in Murano, Italy in 1810. He began his libretto-writing career with a number of composers who now are mere footnotes in opera history. In the 1840’s, Count Mocenigo introduced him to Verdi, beginning an eighteen-year collaboration which included ten operas, among them several of the composer’s greatest works, in addition to La Traviata. Among them were Rigoletto, Macbeth, La forza del destino, and Simon Boccanegra. He also had a career as a stage director at the famed La Scala opera house in Milan. Sadly, he was disabled by a stroke in 1867 and was unable to work after that. He died in Milan March 5, 1876. During his final years, Verdi provided him with financial support.
Piave and Verdi were drawn to each other not only by their love of opera but also by their Italian patriotism. The collaboration, however, was hardly a relationship of two equals. Verdi was clearly in control, frequently criticizing Piave’s work and demanding numerous revisions. Fortunately, Piave was willing to accept his subordinate role in order to remain in the composer’s good graces.
Alexandre Dumas fils (junior) was the younger half of the most famous father-son writing duo in history. Dumas père is best remembered for his swashbuckling novels The Count of Monte Christo and The Three Musketeers. The younger Dumas was the out-of-wedlock son of a dressmaker. At the age of seven the elder Dumas recognized him as his son and, in an era where women had few rights, forcibly took him from his mother and supervised his education at various boarding schools.
In 1844 Dumas moved to Paris, where he met and fell in love with a young courtesan named Marie Duplessis (born Alphonsine Plessis), who had also included Franz Liszt among her prominent lovers. She became the model for Marguerite, in his novel “La dame aux Camélias” and the subsequent dramatic version of the same story. (Piave and Verdi changed her name to Violetta). Apparently he had hoped that like his fictional counterpart he could reform her and save her from a life of promiscuity. However, most of his biographers believe that Marie, unlike Violetta, had no desire to settle down into a monogamous existence and lacked Violetta’s nobility of character. She died of consumption at age twenty-three.
Though today Dumas is best remembered as the author of the book behind La Traviata, he was a prolific playwright who was regarded in his day as a master of dramatic construction. Unlike his father, he focused his attention on contemporary domestic issues. As a reaction to the difficulties he faced growing up as an out-of-wedlock child, many of his plays include didactic attacks on sexual immorality.
Dumas fils was recognized with France’s highest literary honors, being admitted to the Académie française and receiving the Legion d’honneur. He died in 1895.