The man behind the music.

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Samuel Morse portrait of Lorenzo Da Ponte

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.

Poxy King

charlesviii

Charles VIII of France, who was known by his subjects as Charles the Affable.  For me he is the Monarch of the morbus gallicus, the Sovereign of syphilis, the prince of pox.

In 1494 on the death of his relative he exercised his “right” to the throne of Naples.  In a swift campaign he swept through Italy and seized Naples (on this day in 1495) without a siege.   On the way through Italy his French and Swiss troops deported themselves in the usual manner of invading soldiers and raped their way down the peninsula.

The Italians rapidly formed the League of Venice, or the Holy League in 1495 with support mainly from the Neapolitans, Milan, Venice, the Papal States, the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdoms of Spain.

There is a “pre-Columbian” theory that syphilis was present in Europe in some form before this point, but it is also known that it was in the New World.  The popular theory is that the Spanish contingent contained some soldiers and sailors who had been with Columbus in the new world.  Or perhaps they shared the same brothels as the Sailors of Columbus before they departed for Italy.

Whatever the origination there is no doubt that the full blown and virulent explosion of syphilis into Europe can be traced to the war in Naples.

In 1495 the French and Swiss were driven out of Italy by the Holy League, but they brought the disease with them.  They raped and pillaged their way back through Italy to France and then brought the disease home.  It spread throughout the world and was initially a highly virulent disease that resulted in early death.  This supports the theory that it came from the New World for the Europe of the 15th Century had no immunity to the illness.

England had the misfortune to join the League of Venice in 1496. By 1497 the disease had reached England and Scotland.

To this day it remains one of the most horrible and contagious diseases in existence.  Modern antibiotics kept it in check for the last 60 years, but now it is having a resurgence in a world of relaxed sexual mores, anti-biotic resistant strains and low immune conditions such as Aids.

The disease recedes in times of peace, but resurges every time there is a major war.  War is the friend of the Sexually Transmitted Disease.