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The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart's Poet, Casanova's Friend, and Italian Opera's Impresario in America Hardcover – July 11, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First edition (July 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596911182
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596911185
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #975,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Englishman Bolt, who has written on Christopher Marlowe (History Play), relishes the telling of the poor motherless Jewish boy from Venice's ghetto, born Emanuele Conegliano, whose father converted the family to Christianity in 1763 in an attempt to improve his fortunes. Renamed Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749– 1838), after the bishop who converted him, the boy was schooled at a seminary and became a scholarly poet whose amatory entanglements in Venice eventually got him deported. Using his legendary wit and charm, Da Ponte insinuated himself into the graces of Hapsburg Emperor Joseph II, who established an Italian opera company in Vienna, attracting such young composers as Salieri and Mozart. Although he had never written a libretto, Da Ponte was appointed theater poet, which sparked a genius collaboration with Mozart on operas such as Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutte. With the emperor's death in 1790, Da Ponte again fled town with his young English bride, Nancy Grahl; he eventually sailed to America, to become a New York grocer, businessman and professor of Italian at Columbia College. Reading Bolt's lively narrative of Da Ponte's life from the ghetto of Venice to the sparkling opera houses of Europe is pure pleasure. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838), ne Emanuele Conegliano, was baptized shortly after his bar mitzvah and given the bishop's name. He conceived a passion for words, particularly poetry, ever since finding a cache of books in an attic. Sent to seminary, he was eventually ordained an abbe. As he matured, he embraced Enlightenment principles and got into trouble. Expelled from Venice, he moved to Vienna and was appointed court poet. Salieri and other composers--most famously Mozart--teamed with him to create successful operas. Next stop, London, where he married a well-off English girl and eventually followed her family to America. En route, he started or managed several opera companies but depended on selling books and printing librettos to survive. Bolt skillfully relates broader cultural history to Da Ponte's activities to provide quite a glimpse into turbulent times on both sides of the Atlantic. Da Ponte affected and was affected by many events, and those help make his the fast-paced story of a poet whose overwhelming optimism always prevailed over his many setbacks. Alan Hirsch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Rodgers and Hart, Lerner and Lowe, but Mozart and Da Ponte? Yes, the name is Da Ponte, and few who read Rodney Bolt's stunning examination of the librettist's life will forget it.

One would be hard pressed to find someone entering the worl in less promising circumstances than Da Ponte. The year is 1749; the place is the Venetian Republic. Born the son of a poor leather worker he spent his early years among some fifty other Jews in Ceneda's ghetto, and was named Emanuele Conegliano. Venice was markedly anti-Semitic - Jews were required to wear red headgear in public, they couldn't work for Christians, only certain trades and professions were allowed to them, and they were confined to the ghetto at night. So it was that Emanuele's father decided to improve their lot, both politically and financially, by embracing Catholicism. Then, as was the custom, the family would take the surname of the bishop who baptized them and, as the eldest son, Emanuele would also take the bishop's first name too. He became Lorenzo Da Ponte.

Lorenzo embraced his new faith with exuberance or, as the author notes, his pronouncements "may be the sincere exaltations of a fervent new convert, but they carry more of the wide-eyed wiliness of a fourteen-year-old who has realized on which side his bread is lavishly being buttered."

He was sent to seminary to study and in 1773 was ordained a priest, which did nothing to hamper his relationships with women (some say his scorecard matched that of his friend, Casanova). Venice was a pleasure palace at that time albeit a dying one. And, Lorenzo's penchant for carnal enjoyment eventually resulted in his exile from Venice.

He traveled to Vienna where Emperor Joseph II named him poet for a court opera company.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jose Ruiz on November 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
My initial interest in this book was to learn more about the person who wrote those exquisite librettos for Mozart's Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro, and Cosi Fan Tutte. I was initially somewhat disappointed that the author did not dedicate more space to his relationship with Mozart, but this disappointment dissipated after reading about the rest of DaPonte's life and how he reinvented himself over and over again, in Venice, in Vienna, in London, and finally in New York City. He was a man born way before his time and certainly someone we should read about in admiration, despite his many flaws. The book is very well written and holds your interest from beginning to end.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By J. Steinbock on September 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book. It tells the story of a man I had never head of before, so the novelty of the subject was an attraction.

If you love stories of opera, the effect of the American revolution on Europe, and insight into the court of Joseph II

in Vienna at the time of Mozart, this is a good book. An interesting angle is that the subject was born a Jew in a village near Venice, was baptized as a child and became a Catholic Priest. His subsequent career was marked by abuse of

his priestly vows, but it seems he simply used this path out of poverty, much the same way as a poor boy might use an education in a military academy followed by brief military service.

Finally, the coda to the book finds the protaganist in New York City as Columbia University's first professor of Italian. In retrospect the entire saga, though footnoted and clearly researched with care, has the aura of an old man's memories of

his wild and exciting youth hobnobbing with princes, priests,

wild women, famous composers and poets in distant lands.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Loves the View VINE VOICE on February 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Lorenzo da Ponte defied his time, and later, his age. In his era, most people stayed put, and if they moved, they stayed in the new place. People generally had one career- that of their father(s). Having relocated and reinvented himself, several times, da Ponte lived two generations beyond his contemporaries. At his death he was more than twice Mozart's final age. He outlived his wife by a generation, and he was a generation her senior!

He was busy every moment with optimistic plans and schemes. When things worked out he had high highs. He had low lows when they didn't. Nothing deterred him - ever. He died a risk taking octogenarian. Something about his personality garnered great friends and stirred up enemies.

Bolt is wonderful in describing places da Ponte lived in their time. In Vienna, through the largesse of the Emperor Joseph, a theater could operate independent of the crown, a privilege easily rescinded. I read and re-read the different parts about how the words of Thomas Jefferson resounded in Europe. Like the descriptions of late 18th century Vienna, Prague, the Italian cities and London, the descriptions of early 19th century Philadelphia and NYC are marvelous.

Don Giovani played here in Hawaii to a sold out crowd last week. I wonder how many of those in attendance knew the librettists' name? How many this wonderful story of his life?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on November 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Lorenzo Da Ponte was an early Venetian librettist well known in the late 1700s: he was Mozart's poet, Casanova's friend, and would serve as librettist of three of his friend Mozart's most controversial operas. He went on to become the first professor of Italian at Columbia University: THE LIBRETTIST OF VENICE traces a varied, involving life but also provides a fine history and set of social insights of his times, recreating the politics and world of early Vienna through the changing career of a remarkable man. Engrossing.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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