Metastasio, Pietro Antonio Domenico Bonaventura



Italian poet, who won glory for his country in her time of deepest degradation, and distinction for himself, by perfecting the musical drama, invented by Zeno, and raising it to a recognized literary form. He was born at Rome and was the son of Trapassi, a very humble man in the service of the Pope, who did his best to educate his precocious child. The boy was adopted by a famous lawyer, Gravina, who heard him singing in the street. He changed his name to Mestastasio the Greek form of Trapassi, and had him thoroughly instructed in literature, philosophy and the law. Gravina's death in 1718 left him in fairly good circumstances, but through his own extravagance and the schemes of his rivals he lost all he had and was obliged to go to Naples to escape his creditors. There he found employment with a lawyer, Castagnola, who strictly forbade him to have anything to do with literary pursuits. Secretly he produced a masque, The Garden of Hesperides, which attracted the attention of the singer, Maria Bulgarini, called La Romanina, who at once became his patroness and took him into her household. His first great success, the production of his Deserted Dido in 1 34, was largely due to her performance. The piece was almost a parody on Virgil, but the public was wildly enthusiastic over it and the receipts from it were sufficient to pay Metastasio's Roman debts. In 1729 Emperor Charles VI. sent for him to take Zeno's place as Court poet at Vienna and he went after bidding farewell to La Romanina, who wished to follow him. She died suddenly soon afterwards, possibly by some unnatural means, for Metastasio had soon become attached to Countess Althan at Vienna. His career as Court poet was brilliant and he remained a favorite showered with honors until the close of his romantic life, the only interruption of his work being the Austrian war of succession in 1740. On his death-bed he was given the blessing of Pope Pius VI., then visiting at the Court of Joseph II. As a man Metastasio was selfish but had an intensely passionate and emotional nature, and as a poet he united the playwright's cleverness of Scribe and a wonderful poetic power, which made his verses veritable melody. His characters were weak and artificial, and his dramas seem lifeless now, because of their classic form. He was a musical composer and singer as well as a poet. Of his twenty-nine dramas, the best are Olimpiade; Achille in Sciro; Clemenza di Tito, set to music by Mozart; AtiHo Regplo; Artaserse; Temistocle; and Zenobia. He also wrote oratorios, cantatas, pieces of circumstance, sonnets and elegies. His opera texts have been set to music by Gluck, Hasse, Porpora, Handel, Jommelli, Mozart and others.