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WHEN WE left the Montenegrin Serb royal impersonator Stefano Zannowich yesterday here, it was 1773 and he had just composed Pigmalione.
Let’s not credit Zannowich with inspiring the 1956 Broadway musical My Fair Lady, actually based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 Pygmalion, which in turn is based on Greek mythology.
Indeed, there’s yet another Pigmalion, a 1748 opera-ballet by Jean-Philippe Rameau, not to be confused with Zannowich’s effort 25 years later.
Zannowich’s Pigmalione carries authorship of “Count” Stefano de Zannowich, “Dalmation, Academic, &c. &c.” Not afraid of passing around titles, Zannowich dedicated another of his works, Opere Diverse, Diverse Works, to Count Antonio de Zannowich. The latter was his father Antun, of the Paštrovići clan, one of the two major maritime tribes of the Montenegrin Littoral dating back to the 12th century.
So maybe this Count jazz isn’t completely phony.
No. It is.
Around 1774, the Montenegrins apparently tired of phony-baloney Tsar Peter IIIs (Zannowich was the second; Steven the Little was the first) and they advised that Zannowich promptly vacate the premises. In 1776, he was in Berlin, where, according to Wikipedia, “he failed to gain the trust of Frederick the Great, who immediately saw right through him, but in turn grew increasingly close to his heir Frederick William II.”
Which explains why one is the Great and the other merely II.
Indeed, all good things pass eventually and Zannowich moved on. He was well received in Zweibrücken in 1778, until Berlin rumors caught up with him. Zannowich resided in Alsace and Lorraine under various names, then traveled to Rome where he met a kindred spirit and real piece of work, Elizabeth Chudleigh aka the Duchess of Kingston.
The Duchess was 57; Zannowich was 27.
The pair resided for a while with the St. Petersburg court of Catherine the Great. Catherine had encouraged the assassination of her husband, the real Tsar Peter III, so you’d guess she, Stef and Liz would have lots to chat about. In time, though, Zannowich moved on to Amsterdam and Antwerpen, where he became pals with Charles-Joseph, 7th Prince of Ligne.
Charles-Joseph was a real prince. What’s more, according to an Amazon review of his biography The Prince of Europe: The Life of Charles-Joseph De Ligne 1735–1814, “this Habsburg courtier seduced and symbolized eighteenth-century Europe…. He had surprisingly radical views, believing for example in property rights for women, legal rights for Jews, and the redistribution of wealth.”
The Prince, the Duchess, and Zannowich evidently shared this last belief. However, before long, Stefano was back working solo, using a fake promissory note from the Duchess of Kingston to scam 5764 Dutch guilders from a Frankfurt bank in 1784. Then, on August 11 of that year, he showed up at Bavaria’s Frauenbrünni monastery in the person of an exiled prince seeking sanctuary and peace.
Wikipedia sources note, “During his time in Frauenbrünni, he rarely left his room and often made overgenerous contributions to the poor locals.” Nevertheless, Zannowich also found the time to persuade wealthy Munich, Regensburg, and Augsburg merchants to cut Dutch market deals, and he ended up in an Amsterdam jail. There, on May 25, 1786, Stefano Zannowich took his own life at age 35.
Whatever Zannowich’s failings, a genuine rascal he was. ds
Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017