The story concerns two families in ancient, nascent Venice in 552 AD. The Gratico family has won out, and the Faledro family has lost. The Faledros have been punished by blinding all the men, and cutting out the tongues of the sons as well. The two Gratico brothers arrive, one as the Tribune, one as the bishop. At the same time, the Faledro's daughter enters as well, her name Basiliola. She is at once incarnate Salome, Jezebel and Xena wrapped up in one. Leading the two Graticos to believe she is not there to avenge her father and brothers, she begins to seduce them through dance.
In fact she inflames them so much they have a pitched battle between them, with the Tribune killing his brother the bishop; Basiliola is held up as the cause of it all, and is eventually nailed to the prow of the ship as a kind of living masthead as the Ship -- the Nave of the title is launched and heads off to conquer parts unknown.
Productions of the play, with music by Ildebrano Pizzetti, appeared all over Italy, and in 1912 a film was made of the blood-soaked story, the only vestiges of which seem to be a series of postcards - a major marketing method at the time.
While the opera was considered a success when it premiered at La Scala in Nov. 1918, it was Italy again that was the likely audience. The end of the first world war was announced during the premiere, which helped its popularity, and the rather jingoistic point of view in the story prepared Italians for the occupation of Fiume, effected by D'Annunzio himself in military regalia, and four years later, for the March on Rome by D'Annunzio's rival and erstwhile friend Benito Mussolini. But the opera never found a worldwide audience.
In 1921 another film was made, one that seems more sophisticated than the first one, which still exists today and has a certain raw power to it. It starred dancer Ida Rubinstein, who was second only to Isadora Duncan in international popularity in the dance world. Both play and opera stress dance as a means of expression in La Nave, much in the same way as Wilde's (and Strauss's) Salome. In fact, the temptress who dances to gain influence is almost identical in D'Annunzio's conceptualization of the story.
You must come see this work on October 29, 2012, at the Rose Theater, Home of Jazz, in New York, presented in concert by Teatro Grattacielo.