Who wrote the operas Marriage of Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutte and Don Giovanni? Ask that question 100 times and 100 times you will get the answer “Mozart”. We could as easily say “Lorenzo Da Ponte”. Born on this day in 1749 Da Ponte wrote the libretti for 28 operas by 11 different composers, including Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Born as Emanuele Conegliano he was a Venetian Jew. When his father converted to marry a Catholic Emanuele was given the name of the converting bishop, Lorenzo da Ponte.
After converting Da Ponte studied in the semenary, was ordained as a priest and became a teacher. But he was a bad priest who had children with a mistress and was ejected from Venice for running a brothel.
He found his way to the Italian Theatre in Vienna and bore an letter of introduction to Salieri. He secured a job translating libretti and secured a patron. He went on to write the libretti for the greatest operas of his day.
He lost his sponsor in 1790 upon the death of Emperor Joseph II. Bearing a recommendation letter from Joseph to his sister, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, he headed for Paris. His timing could not have been worse. The French Revolution broke out and Da Ponte changed his travel plans taking a diversion to London. Struggling for a time, forced to work in menial jobs, he evenually secured a job in Kings Theatre. But unable to clear debts he fled England for America.
In the USA he worked as a grocer, a teacher of Italian and of Italian literature. He attempted to bring Opera to New York, but was let down by his lack of business skills. However, the work he began led to the foundation of the New York Metropolitain Opera and the New York Academy of Music.
Da Ponte is buried somewhere in New York. There is a memorial plaque in Calvary Cemetery Queens, but that is not his grave.