Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Pietro Metastasio

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Italian poet, b. at Rome, 1698; d. at Vienna, 1782. Of humble origins, his father, once a Papal soldier, was later a pork-butcher; Metastasio was placed in the shop of a goldsmith to learn his craft. By some chance he attracted the attention of the jurisconsult and littérateur, Vincenzo Gravina, who took him in charge, and Græcizing his name of Trapassi, into the synonymous Metastasio, gave him a solid education. At his death in 1718 he left to his protégé a considerable sum of money, which the latter soon dissipated. Then he was compelled to apprentice himself at Naples to a lawyer, who, however, found the apprentice more prone to verse writing than to study legal codes. The beginning of Matastasio's real career is marked by the composition, at the request of the Viceroy of Naples, of his musical drama, the "Orti Esperidi", which had signal success. The leading part therein was played by the famous actress, la Romanina (Marianna Benti-Bulgarelli). She at once became attached to the young poet, commissioned him to write a new play, the "Didone abbandonata", had him taught music by a noted teacher, and took him to Rome and Venice with her on her professional tours. At Vienna the Italian melodramatist, Apostolo Zeno, was about to relinquish his post as imperial poet, and in 1730 he recommended that Metastasio be appointed his successor. With this recommendation and with the aid of the Countess of Althann, who remained his patroness during her lifetime, he obtained the appointment. Thereafter, and especially during the decade between 1730 and 1740, Metastasio was engaged in the composition of his many melodramas (over seventy in number), his oratorios, cantate, canzonette, etc. Among the most noted of his melodramas - which announce the coming opera - are: "Endimione", "Orti Esperidi", "Galatea", "Angelica", "Didone", "Siroe", "Catone", "Artaserse", "Adriano", "Demetrio", "Issipile", "Demofoonte", "Clemenza di Tito", "Semiramide", "Olimpiade", "Temistocle", and the "Attilio Regolo". The last-named is regarded as his masterpiece. All the pieces of Metastasio took the popular fancy, chiefly because he sedulously avoided all unhappy dénouements, and, enlivening his efficacious dialogue with common sense aphorisms, he combined them with arias and ariettas that appealed to the many. His Letters are important in connexion with any study of his artistic development.

The best edition of his works is that of Paris, 1780-82. Additions are found in the Opere Postume, Vienna, 1795. (See also the editions of Florence, 1820 and 1826). His letters were edited by Carducci (Bologna, 1883), and by Antona Traversi (Rome, 1886.)