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August 17: Mozart’s Librettist

August 17, 2014
220px-Lorenzo_da_PonteLorenzo Da Ponte, the librettist for three of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s most famous operas — Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte — died at 89 on this date in 1838. Da Ponte was born as Emanuele Conegliano in the Republic of Venice. He converted to Catholicism for the sake of marriage and career advancement, and became a priest in 1773. He was nevertheless known to lead a dissolute life, and in 1779 he was banished for 15 years from Venice for moral crimes, mostly involving women and prostitution. He spent years in Vienna, where he served as librettist to the Italian Theater in Vienna and collaborated with Mozart, as well as in London and New York, where he ran a bookshop and a grocery store and founded an opera company. “On June 4 1805, a 56-year-old Italian immigrant disembarked in Philadelphia from the transatlantic packet Columbia, carrying only a violin. The little money on him when he left London, fleeing his many debtors, he had gambled away on the voyage.... To those who knew him in the American denouement of his long European life, there was always an air of mystery about the Abbé Lorenzo da Ponte. A scholarly poet and teacher, he was also an ordained Catholic priest, rumoured to have been born Jewish. Although he had a devoted wife, he also had a reputation as a womaniser. With his flirtatious eyes and mane of white hair, Da Ponte charmed all he met.” —Anthony Holden, The Guardian