Lorenzo da Ponte: The Man behind Mozart

Statue of Lorenzo da Ponte, Ceneda
I have just finished reading Rodney Bolt's excellent biography of Lorenzo da Ponte, priest, poet and the librettist for three of Mozart’s greatest operas. A couple of days ago I paid a visit to Ceneda (which is now part of Vittorio Veneto), where Lorenzo was born on March 10th, 1749. 

A man of Da Ponte's talents was not likely to spend his life in a sleepy backwater like Ceneda, and in 1773 he moved, via Portogruaro (where he was ordained a priest) to the bright lights of Venice. He may have been a man of the cloth, but this did not stop him from leading a very dissipated life. While he was priest at the church of San Luca he took a mistress, with whom he had two children. In 1779 he was put on trial and charged with 'public concubinage' and 'the abduction of a respectable woman'. He was found guilty and banished from Venice for fifteen years. 

After spending time in Gorizia and Dresden he pitched up in Vienna where he became court librettist. The rest, as they say, is history. Da Ponte passed the last third of his long life in New York, where he became the first Professor of Italian Literature at Colombia University. But that, as they also say, is another story! He died in 1838 as an American citizen.

Lorenzo da Ponte is honoured in the town of his birth by a curious little statue, which makes the notorious libertine look rather fey. 


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