Lorenzo Da Ponte
Lorenzo Da Ponte was a Venetian opera librettist and poet. He wrote the librettos for 28 operas by 11 composers, including three of Mozart's greatest operas. He 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.
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.
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, Le Nozze di 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.
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.
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. 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”.
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.