Lorenzo Da Ponte

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Lorenzo Da Ponte
Engraving by Michele Pekenino after Nathaniel Rogers

Lorenzo Da Ponte (10 March 1749 – 17 August 1838) was a Venetian opera librettist and poet. He wrote the librettos for 28 operas by 11 composers, including three of Mozart's greatest operas, Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte.

Early career[edit]

Lorenzo Da Ponte was born Emanuele Conegliano in Ceneda, in the Republic of Venice (now Vittorio Veneto, Italy). He was Jewish by birth, the eldest of three sons. In 1764, his father, the widower Geronimo Conegliano, converted himself and his family to Roman Catholicism in order to remarry. Emanuele, as was the custom, took the name of Lorenzo Da Ponte from the Bishop of Ceneda who baptised him. Thanks to the bishop, the three brothers studied at the Ceneda seminary. The bishop died in 1768, after which Lorenzo moved to the seminary at Portogruaro, where he took Minor Orders in 1770 and became Professor of Literature, and was ordained a priest in 1773. He began at this period writing poetry in Italian and Latin, including an ode to wine, Ditirambo sopra gli odori.[1]

In 1773 he moved to Venice, where he made a living as a teacher of Latin, Italian and French. Although he was a Catholic priest, the young man led a dissolute life. While priest of the church of San Luca, he took a mistress, with whom he had two children. At his 1779 trial, where he was charged with "public concubinage" and "abduction of a respectable woman", it was alleged that he had been living in a brothel and organizing the entertainments there. He was found guilty and banished for fifteen years from Venice.[2]

Vienna and London[edit]

Lorenzo Da Ponte moved to Gorizia, then part of Austria, where he lived as a writer, attaching himself to the leading noblemen and cultural patrons of the city. In 1781 he believed (falsely) that he had an invitation from his friend Caterino Mazzolà, the poet of the Saxon court, to take up a post at Dresden, only to be disabused when he arrived there. Mazzolà however offered him work at the theatre translating libretti and recommended that he seek to develop writing skills. He also gave him a letter of introduction to the composer Antonio Salieri.[3]

With the help of Salieri, Da Ponte applied for and obtained the post of librettist to the Italian Theatre in Vienna. Here he also found a patron in the banker Raimund Wetzlar von Plankenstern, benefactor of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As court librettist in Vienna, he collaborated with Mozart, Salieri and Vicente Martín y Soler. Da Ponte wrote the libretti for Mozart's most popular Italian operas, The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), and Così fan tutte (1790), and Soler's Una cosa rara. All of Da Ponte's works were adaptations of pre-existing plots, as was common among librettists of the time, with the exceptions of L'arbore di Diana with Soler, and Così fan tutte, which he began with Salieri, but completed with Mozart. However the quality of his elaboration gave them new life.

In the case of Figaro, Da Ponte included a preface to the libretto that hints at his technique and objectives in libretto writing, as well as his close working with the composer:

[...] I have not made a translation [of Beaumarchais], but rather an imitation, or let us say an extract [...] I was compelled to reduce the sixteen original characters to eleven, two of which can be played by a single actor and to omit, in addition to one whole act, many effective scenes [...] In spite, however, of all the zeal and care on the part of both the composer and myself to be brief, the opera will not be one of the shortest [...] Our excuse will be the variety of development of this drama,[...] to paint faithfully and in full colour the divers passions that are aroused, and [...] to offer a new type of spectacle [...][4]

Only one address of Da Ponte's during his stay in Vienna is known: in 1788 he lived in the house Heidenschuß 316 (today the street area between Freyung and Hof), which belonged to the Viennese archbishop. There he rented a three-room apartment for 200 Gulden.[5]

With the death of Austrian Emperor Joseph II in 1790, Da Ponte lost his patron. He was formally dismissed from the Imperial Service in 1791, due to intrigues, receiving no support from the new Emperor, Leopold. He could not return to Venice, from which he had been banished until the end of 1794. In 1792 Da Ponte travelled via Prague to London, accompanied by his companion Nancy Grahl (with whom he eventually had four children); in 1803 he became librettist at the King's Theatre, London. He remained based in London undertaking various theatrical and publishing activities until 1805, when debt and bankruptcy caused him to flee to the United States in 1805 with Grahl and his children.[1]

American career[edit]

In the United States, Da Ponte settled in New York first, then Sunbury, Pennsylvania, where he briefly ran a grocery store and gave private Italian lessons. He returned to New York to open a bookstore. He became friends with Clement Clarke Moore, and, through him, gained an appointment as the first professor of Italian literature at Columbia College. He was the first Roman Catholic priest to be appointed to the faculty, and he was also the first to have been born a Jew. In New York he introduced opera and produced a performance of Don Giovanni (1825).[1] He also introduced Gioachino Rossini's music in the U.S., through a concert tour with his niece Giulia Da Ponte.

In 1807 he began to write his Memoirs (published in 1823), described by Charles Rosen as "not an intimate exploration of his own identity and character, but rather a picaresque adventure story."[6]

In 1828, at the age of 79, Lorenzo Da Ponte became a naturalized U.S. citizen. In 1833, at the age of eighty-four, he founded an opera house in the United States, the New York Opera Company. Owing to his lack of business acumen, however, it lasted only two seasons before the company had to be disbanded and the theater sold to pay the company's debts. It was, however, the predecessor of the New York Academy of Music and of the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Lorenzo Da Ponte died in 1838 in New York; an enormous funeral ceremony was held in New York's old St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mulberry Street. Some sources state that Da Ponte is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, but that cemetery did not exist before 1848. Other sources say Da Ponte was buried in lower Manhattan. Calvary Cemetery does contain a stone marker to serve as a memorial to Da Ponte.[7]

In 2009 the Spanish director Carlos Saura released his Italian film Io, Don Giovanni, a somewhat fictionalized account of Da Ponte, which attempted to link his life with his libretto for Don Giovanni.

Da Ponte's libretti[edit]

The nature of Da Ponte's contribution to the art of libretto-writing has been much discussed. In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, it is pointed out that "the portrayal of grand passions was not his strength", but that he worked particularly closely with his composers to bring out their strengths, especially where it was a matter of sharp characterization or humorous or satirical passages.[1] Richard Taruskin notes that Mozart, in letters to his father Leopold, had expressed concern to secure Da Ponte, but was worried that the Italian composers in town (e.g. Salieri) were trying to keep him for themselves. He specifically wished to create a buffa comedy opera which included a seria female part for contrast; Taruskin suggests that "Da Ponte's special gift was that of forging this virtual smorgasbord of idioms into a vivid dramatic shape."[8] David Cairns examines Da Ponte's reworking of the scenario for Don Giovanni, (originally written by Giovanni Bertati and performed in Venice as Don Giovanni Tenorio, with music by Gazzaniga, in 1787). Cairns points out that "the verbal borrowings are few", and that Da Ponte is at every point "wittier, more stylish, more concise and more effective." Moreover, Da Ponte's restructuring of the action enables a tighter format giving better opportunities for Mozart's musical structures.[9] David Conway suggests that Da Ponte's own life 'in disguise' (as a Jew/priest/womaniser) enabled him to infuse the operatic cliche of disguise with a sense of Romantic irony.[10]

Works[edit]

  • Opera libretti:
  • Cantatas and oratorios:
    • Per la ricuperata salute di Ofelia (1785) – composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonio Salieri and "Cornetti" (lost)
    • Il Davidde (1791) – Pasticcio from works by various composers
    • Hymn to America – composer Antonio Bagioli
  • Poetry:
  • Other
    • translations from English into Italian.
    • several books of elementary instruction in the Italian language
    • Memorie (autobiography)
    • History of the Florentine Republic and the Medici (2 vols., 1833).[12]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d Angermüller (1990)
  2. ^ Holden (2006), 34–9
  3. ^ Holden (2006), 50–5
  4. ^ cited in Einstein (1962), 430
  5. ^ Michael Lorenz, "Mozart's Apartment on the Alsergrund" (Vienna, 2009), published in print in: Newsletter of the Mozart Society of America, Vol. XIV, No. 2 (27 August 2010)
  6. ^ Da Ponte (2000), ix–x
  7. ^ Da Ponte memorial at Find a Grave
  8. ^ Taruskin (2010), 476–7
  9. ^ Cairns (2006), 147–151
  10. ^ Conway (2012), 52–3
  11. ^ Anthony Holden, pp. 113–6
  12. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Da Ponte, Lorenzo". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 

Sources

Other reading

  • Bolt, Rodney, The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte – Mozart's Poet, Casanova's Friend, and Italian Opera's Impresario in America, New York: Bloomsbury, 2006 ISBN 1-59691-118-2
  • Hodges, Sheila, Lorenzo Da Ponte: The Life and Times of Mozart's Librettist, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002 ISBN 0-299-17874-9
  • Jewish Museum Vienna (pub.), Lorenzo Da Ponte – Challenging the New World, exhibition catalogue from the Jewish Museum ISBN 978-3-7757-1748-9, ISBN 3-7757-1748-X
  • Steptoe, Anthony, Mozart–Da Ponte Operas: The Cultural and Musical Background to "Le nozze di Figaro", "Don Giovanni", and "Così fan tutte", New York: Clarendon Press/Oxford University Press, 1988 ISBN 0-19-313215-X

External links[edit]