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Myfanwy Piper

Biography

British art critic and opera librettist Myfanwy Piper was the librettist for Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw, Owen Wingrave and Death in Venice.

Piper was born Mary Myfanwy Evans in 1911 in London. Her mother was English, her father Welsh. She attended North London Collegiate School and studied English Language and Literature at St Hugh's College, Oxford. In 1934 she met the artist and art critic John Piper, with whom she co-founded the art periodical Axis. The couple set up house together in Fawley Bottom farmhouse in Oxfordshire and married in 1937. Their four children included the artist Edward Piper. In 1947, Benjamin Britten invited John Piper to become a co-founder of the English Opera Group. A close friendship grew between the Pipers and Britten, and John Piper designed many premieres of Britten's stage works. Myfanwy Piper's collaboration with Britten began when she suggested he write an opera based on Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, which had its premiere at La Fenice, Venice, in 1954 as part of the Venice Biennale, with designs by John Piper. In 1968, Britten suggested that Myfanwy Piper write the libretto for another Henry James adaptation, the television opera Owen Wingrave (1970). Their final project together began less than a year later, when Piper began work on the libretto for Britten's final opera, Death in Venice, which she adapted from Thomas Mann's story.

Along with her work for Britten, Piper wrote librettos for Malcolm Williamson's Easter, and Alun Hoddinott's What the Old Man Does is Always Right, The Rajah's Diamond and The Trumpet Major. She also wrote the play The Seducer (based on Kierkegaard's novel The Diary of a Seducer) and a book on the painter Frances Hodgkins. In addition to her work as a writer and librettist, Piper was renowned as a superb cook and convivial hostess of memorable parties, which often included fireworks. She died in 1992 five years after her husband John, to whom she remained devoted.