Francesco Maria Piave (1810-1876) was one of the Romantic era opera's greatest librettists (that's lyricist in modern lingo.) He primarily worked with the Italian giant Guiseppe Verdi and the highly stylized Giovanni Pacini, and over his lifetime composed lyrics for nearly 40 operas.
Born in Murano, the glass capital of Venice, during the short-lived Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, he worked under his glass-making father for several years before entering seminary school. Unhappy and bored, he left to become a proofreader and, when his father's business collapsed, left for Rome at 23 to seek his fortune.
There he met a number of artistic and literary friends who, like Piave, shared a great and deep sense of Italian patriotism, borne of their hatred for the French and the Church. In 1838 he returned to Venice, and it was not until he was 32 that he wrote his first libretto, an unperformed work for Samuel Levi.
After a few more false starts, he was introduced to the young operatic wunderkind Verdi in 1844. There started a lifelong collaboration between the men, a bond strengthened by their patriotism and their love of the Italian opera as an iconic and often world-changing event. Over the years, Piave provided the lyrics to some of Verdi's greatest operas, including I due Foscari, Macbeth, Rigoletto, and La Traviata. It was at Verdi's urging that Piave relocated to Milan and became head theatrical director at La Scala in 1859.
Ironically, despite his deep association with Verdi, Piave cannot take credit for Verdi's greatest work, Aida. Verdi had approached Piave to write the lyrics, and Piave had of course accepted, but was felled by a stroke in 1867 before beginning on the piece. Piave struggled with the aftereffects of the incident for the rest of his life, and never again wrote a libretto or directed an opera.
Francesco Maria Piave passed away March 5, 1876, in Milan. He was 66 years old.