Simanaitis Says

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YESTERDAY, LORENZO Da Ponte assumed a bishop’s name, joined the priesthood, took a mistress, got banished from Venice, and worked with Mozart. Today, we learn more of one of their combined efforts, the opera Cosi fan Tutte.

Lorenzo Da Ponte, 1749–1838, born Emanuele Conegliano. Italian/American, opera librettist. He became a U.S. citizen in 1828, at age 79. Image from

Cosi Tidbits, Back Then. According to Sir Denis Forman’s A Night at the Opera, “No one knows where Da Ponte found the story for Cosi. There is no evidence to back a popular legend that the plot was based on a real event, two Viennese officers betting that they would succeed in having off with each other’s girlfriends.”

A Cosi Tidbit, Today. My favorite local opera company, Pacific Opera Project, is presenting Cosi Fan Tutte March 28, 29, April, 2, 4, and 5, 2020, at North Hollywood’s El Portal Theatre.

Like other POP productions, Cosi is sure to be well executed with entertaining and innovative twists.

A Mozart Joke. Wikipedia shares a tale showing Mozart’s devilish sense of humor: “According to [English music critic] William Mann, Mozart disliked prima donna Adriana Ferrarese del Bene, Da Ponte’s arrogant mistress for whom the role of Fiordiligi had been created. Knowing her idiosyncratic tendency to drop her chin on low notes and throw back her head on high ones, Mozart filled her showpiece aria Come scoglio with constant leaps from low to high and high to low in order to make Ferrarese’s head ‘bob like a chicken’ onstage.”

Adriana Ferrarese del Bene, c. 1755– c. 1804, Italian operatic soprano. Image from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Muller Collection.

An Itinerant Librettist. Back to Forman: “Mozart and Da Ponte were in a hurry to get the show on before the Emperor died, which was an odds-on bet at the time. This they did, but only just; Joseph died after the fifth performance and all theatres closed.”

Worse than that, Da Ponte was formally dismissed in 1791, within a year after Joseph II’s death, at least in part because of court intrigues. He couldn’t go back to Venice; his banishment had a few more years to run. He had a letter of recommendation to Marie Antoinette from her brother Joseph II. What with the guillotine and all, though, this was not the best time for a Paris visit.

So instead Da Ponte went to London, accompanied by Nancy Grahl, his latest flame with whom he would eventually have four children. And who said it wouldn’t last?

In London, Da Ponte taught Italian, ran a grocery store, and eventually, in 1803, became librettist at the King’s Theatre. However, two years later, debts and bankruptcy got him and Grahl on the lam, this time to the United States.

Image from

There, Da Ponte first lived in New York City; then tried his hand at a distilling operation, the grocery business, and teaching Italian in Sunbury, Pennsylvania; then back to NYC where he ran a bookstore; then as the first professor of Italian literature (unpaid) at Columbia College. Wikipedia notes, “He was the first Roman Catholic priest to be appointed to the faculty, and he was also the first to have been raised a Jew.”

And I’ll bet he was the first one to have written libretti for Mozart. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

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