Lorenzo Da Ponte

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Lorenzo Da Ponte, early 19th century
(Michele Pekenino after Nathaniel Rogers).

Lorenzo Da Ponte , also Lorenzo Daponte , actually Emmanuele Conegliano (born March  10, 1749 in Cèneda , Republic of Venice , †  August 17, 1838 in New York ) was an Italian poet who wrote about thirty opera libretti and an autobiography . Under Emperor Joseph II he worked in Vienna with Salieri , Martín y Soler and Mozart . Operas for which Da Ponte wrote the libretto are known as Da Ponte operas .


Lorenzo Da Ponte was originally called Emmanuele Conegliano . He adopted his new name when his father Geremia, a tanner and leather merchant, converted from Judaism to Catholicism with his three sons from their first marriage in August 1763 in order to be able to get married in their second marriage. He took the name from the then Bishop of Cèneda , from whom he was adopted . Converted Jews in Italy in the 18th century were often adopted by Catholic clergymen in order to be able to move up in society.

Da Ponte had not had regular schooling until he was 15 when he and his brother Girolamo entered the seminary in Cèneda. After the death of the Bishop of Cèneda in 1768, Lorenzo initially remained without financial support and decided to become a priest. In 1769 he moved to the seminary of Portogruaro , where he became a teacher of rhetoric in 1770 , deputy director in 1772 and received minor orders in March 1773 . In the autumn of the same year he went to Venice , fell in love with a patrician and in 1774 became a teacher of classical literature in nearby Treviso . He was dismissed there in 1776 for his views on the laws of nature. Da Ponte was exiled from the Republic of Venice on December 17, 1779 for adultery and cohabitation with a married woman for 15 years.

Lorenzo Da Ponte, ca.1820 (unknown artist).

In 1781, through the mediation of the Dresden court poet Caterino Mazzolà, he came into contact with Antonio Salieri , who got him a job at the court of Emperor Joseph II in Vienna. From 1783 he worked there as a lyricist for the Italian theater. His first work in this field - Il ricco d'un giorno for Salieri (1784) - was granted only moderate success. He also lost all of his teeth from an acid attack that was inflicted on him because of a love intrigue. In total, he produced around 40  librettos for a number of composers , including Axur, re d'Ormus (1788) for Salieri. He became famous for his texts on Mozart's operas Le nozze di Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787) and Così fan tutte (1790). The greatest public success among contemporaries, however, were the joint works by Da Ponte and Vicente Martín y Soler Il burbero di buon cuore , Una cosa rara (both 1786) and L'arbore di Diana (1787).

Da Ponte lost his job in Vienna in the spring of 1791 under Joseph's successor Leopold II . In autumn 1792 he traveled to London via Prague (where he visited Casanova ) and Dresden . There he taught Italian and wrote libretti for an Italian opera company. From then on, Nancy Grahl, 20 years his junior, was the woman at Da Ponte's side. In 1793 he worked at the King's Theater . Between 1794 and 1804 there are 28  premieres of works based on his texts, including La capricciosa corretta (1795) by Martín y Soler.

From 1800 Da Ponte got into trouble with some creditors because he had vouched for a change of parliamentarian and these were not covered. So he sent his family to America in 1804 , followed them a year later and settled first in Pennsylvania and later in New York . He tried different lines of business. He worked as a tobacco and liquor dealer and had a fruit and vegetable shop in the Bowery , before later teaching Italian as a private tutor. In 1825 he was appointed professor of Italian literature at Columbia College in New York and published a number of books in his own publishing bookstore. His multi-volume memoirs ( Memorie ) offer an exciting read of high source value.

Lorenzo Da Ponte, ca.1830 ( attributed to Samuel FB Morse , detail).

A high point of Da Ponte's stay in the USA was the performance of Don Giovanni in 1825. From 1830 the poet intensified his efforts to help opera achieve a breakthrough in America. He was able to win sponsors for the construction of the first opera house in New York. This did not pay off financially, especially since the building burned down in 1836. Da Ponte's funeral was celebrated with great pomp in the then St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1838 .

Da Ponte's outstanding quality as a librettist was his adaptability to the needs of the respective composer. This is particularly evident in the texts he wrote for Martín y Soler, Mozart and Salieri in the 1787–1788 season. In Le nozze di Figaro , the political message of Beaumarchais ' model is toned down by assigning buffo characteristics to various supporting roles (Bartolo, Marcellina and Basilio) . In Don Giovanni, too, Da Ponte used the common opera buffa repertoire  - disguises, games of hide and seek, strokes of the stick - to expand on Giuseppe Gazzaniga's model . His libretto for Così fan tutte was considered frivolous and immoral in the 19th century, but is now regarded as his most successful work with its elegant diction, its symmetrical structure and its treatment of serious human questions within a stylized, artificial framework.

In 1906 the Dapontegasse in Vienna- Landstrasse (3rd district) was named after him.


Opera libretti

year title Music of annotation
1783 Ifigenia in Tauride Antonio Salieri Italian translation of the French opera Iphigénie en Tauride by Christoph Willibald Gluck
1783 La scuola de 'gelosi Antonio Salieri New version of the libretto from 1778 by Caterino Mazzolà
1784 Il ricco d'un giorno Antonio Salieri
1786 The burbero di buon cuore Vicente Martín y Soler based on the French comedy Le Bourru bienfaisant by Carlo Goldoni
1786 Il Demogorgone ovvero Il filosofo confuso Vincenzo Righini
1786 Il finto cieco Giuseppe Gazzaniga
1786 Le nozze di Figaro Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart based on the play Le Mariage de Figaro by Beaumarchais
1786 Una cosa rara o sia Bellezza ed onestà Vicente Martín y Soler based on the comedy La luna de la Sierra by Luis Vélez de Guevara
1786 Gli equivoci Stephen Storace
1787 L'arbore di Diana Vicente Martín y Soler
1787 Il dissoluto punito o sia Il Don Giovanni Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart based on the opera Don Giovanni Tenorio by Giuseppe Gazzaniga
1788 Axur, re d'Ormus Antonio Salieri Italian counterfactor for the opera Tarare by Beaumarchais and Antonio Salieri
1788 Il talismano Antonio Salieri after Carlo Goldoni
1788 Il Bertoldo Antonio Brunetti
1789 L'ape musicale various composers ( pasticcio )
1789 Il pastor fido Antonio Salieri based on the shepherd poem of the same name by Giovanni Battista Guarini
1789 La cifra Antonio Salieri
1790 So fan tutte Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
1790 La caffettiera bizzarra Joseph Weigl
1795 La capricciosa corretta Vicente Martín y Soler
1795 L'isola del piacere Vicente Martín y Soler after L'isola della fortuna by Giovanni Bertati
1796 Antigona Giuseppe Francesco Bianchi
1796 Il consiglio imprudente Giuseppe Francesco Bianchi
1797 Merope Giuseppe Francesco Bianchi
1798 Cinna Giuseppe Francesco Bianchi
1802 Armida Giuseppe Francesco Bianchi
1803 La grotta di Calipso Peter from Winter
1804 Il trionfo dell'amor fraterno Peter from Winter
1804 Il ratto di Proserpina Peter from Winter

Texts for cantatas, oratorios etc.

  • 1785: Per la ricuperata salute di Ofelia , music by Mozart, Salieri and Cornetti
  • 1785: Davidde penitente (Da Pontes authorship not confirmed), music by Mozart
  • 1791: Il Davidde , pasticcio from compositions by various masters
  • Hymn to America , music by Antonio Baglioni


  • Memorie di Lorenzo Da Ponte, da Cèneda . Scritte da esso. John Gray + Sons, Nuova Yorka 1823,
2. Corrected edition with annotations and one volume increased. Volume 1, parts 1 and 2, Nuova-Jorca 1829 ( digital copyhttp: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/1%3D~GB%3DpVtJAQAAMAAJ~IA%3D~MDZ%3D%0A~SZ%3D~ double-sided%3D~LT%3D~PUR%3D ); 2nd volume, parts 1 and 2, Nuova-Jorca 1829/30 ( digitized version http: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/1%3D~GB%3DpEZAAAAAYAAJ~IA%3D~MDZ%3D%0A~SZ%3D~doppelseiten%3D~LT%3D~PUR%3D); Volume 3, parts 1 and 2, Nuova-Jorca 1830 ( digitized version http: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/1%3D~GB%3DQHBUAAAAYAAJ~IA%3D~MDZ%3D%0A~SZ%3D~doppelsided%3D~LT%3D~PUR%3D). Issues in German translation 1925 and several times after 1945 a. a .:
Story of my life - memoir of a Venetian . From d. Italy. transfer u. ed. by Charlotte Birnbaum, with e. Foreword by Hermann Kesten , Wunderlich, Tübingen 1969. (Parallel edition of the Gutenberg Book Guild 1969)
My adventurous life - the memories of the Mozart librettist . From the Ital. by Eduard Burckhardt. With an afterward from Wolfgang Hildesheimer . Diogenes, Zurich 1991, ISBN 978-3-257-01881-3 .
The story of my life. Translation by Charlotte Birnbaum, epilogue, catalog raisonné and notes by Jörg Krämer. Insel Verlag , Frankfurt am Main . 2005. ISBN 3-458-34791-7 .
  • Libretti viennesi, ed. v. Lorenzo Della Chà. Fondazione Pietro Bembo / Guanda, Milano 1999, 2 vols. ISBN 88-8246-060-6 .
  • Estratto delle Memorie, ed. v. Lorenzo Della Chà. Edizioni Il Polifilo , Milano 1999, ISBN 88-7050-438-7 .
  • Il Mezenzio, ed. v. Lorenzo Della Chà. Edizioni Il Polifilo, Milano 2000. ISBN 88-7050-310-0 .
  • Saggio di traduzione libera di Gil Blas, ed. v. Lorenzo Della Chà. Edizioni Il Polifilo, Milano 2002, ISBN 88-7050-461-1 .
  • Dante Alighieri, ed. v. Lorenzo Della Chà. Edizioni Il Polifilo, Milano 2004, ISBN 88-7050-462-X .
  • Saggi poetici, ed. v. Lorenzo Della Chà. Edizioni Il Polifilo, Milano 2005, ISBN 88-7050-463-8 .
  • Libretti londinesi, ed. v. Lorenzo Della Chà. Edizioni Il Polifilo, Milano 2007, 2 vols. ISBN 88-7050-464-6 .


Web links

Commons : Lorenzo da Ponte  - Collection of images, videos and audio files