AZO Cast Members & Creatives
Lorenzo Da Ponte
Lorenzo Da Ponte was born Emanuele Conegliano in 1749 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, Geronimo Conegliano, then a widower, converted himself and his family to Roman Catholicism in order to marry a Catholic woman. 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 Conegliano 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. He 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".
In 1773 Da Ponte 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.
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.
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 poet and 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, as well as the text on which the cantata Per la ricuperata salute di Ofelia (collaboratively composed in 1785 by Salieri, Mozart and Cornetti) is based. 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 United States, Da Ponte settled in New York City 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 unpaid 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 in 1825 the first full performance of Don Giovanni in the United States, in which Maria García (soon to marry Malibran) sang Zerlina. He also introduced Gioachino Rossini's music in the U.S., through a concert tour with his niece Giulia Da Ponte.
Lorenzo Da Ponte died in 1838 in New York.