Biography of Italian Opera Writer Lorenzo da Ponte Part 3

About the famous Italian opera writer or librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, his biography and how he helped Mozart finish the works Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni.

LORENZO DA PONTE (1749-1838). Italian librettist.

When Joseph II died, Da Ponte lost his meal ticket and he was out of a job. He went to Trieste and there, at the age of 43, "an age at which respectable married men take mistresses, and disreputable adventurers think about marriage," he fell in love with an Englishwoman, Nancy Grahl. They settled in London, where Da Ponte wrote operatic libretti as Poet to the Italian Opera in the Drury Lane Theatre. He was in England 12 years, and during that time he did the libretti for 5 now forgotten operas. In the same period, he traveled to Italy once to recruit singers, opened a printing shop, helped promote a piano factory, established an Italian bookshop, wrote and published several scandalous--and quite obscene--broadsides against his enemies, was arrested 30 times, and went bankrupt.

Disconsolate and deeply in debt, he decided that England had nothing more to offer him and so he, Nancy, and their 5 children set sail for America. In New York, he opened a grocery store and then moved to Elizabeth, N.J., where he deplored the fact that he was now writing "bills for sausages and dried prunes," for carpenters and draymen, when once he had written operatic libretti for Kings.

His grocery business was doomed to failure because the softhearted Da Ponte allowed his customers infinite credit, finally accepting "lame horses, broken carts . . . old shoes . . . rancid butter" in payment for goods. In 1807, he returned to New York, where he gave Italian lessons. He met the poet Clement Clarke Moore in New York (author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas"), and together they founded the Manhattan Academy for Young Gentlemen, dedicated to the moral uplifting of its students. Da Ponte left New York for greener pastures, in Sunbury, Pa., where he ran a small general store. He went bankrupt once again and moved to Philadelphia, this time operating a millinery shop and a delivery service which he called "L. de Ponty's Wagon."

But he missed New York, and in the spring of 1819, at the age of 70, he returned. He lectured on Italian culture, taught Italian, wrote poetry, translated Byron into Italian, published his memoirs, opened a bookstore. In 1825, he became the 1st professor of Italian literature at Columbia College.

At the age of 84, Da Ponte financed and built New York's 1st opera house, at the corner of Church and Leonard streets in lower Manhattan. The project was immensely rewarding to him, but it drained him financially and physically. On August 17, 1838, at the age of 89, Da Ponte died. Although he had converted to Anglicanism, he was buried in a Catholic cemetery. The cemetery was moved long ago, and no one today has the slightest idea where Da Ponte's headstone or his bones might be.

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