The Man Who Wrote Mozart

Author : Anthony Holden



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    In June 1805, a 56-year-old Italian immigrant disembarked in Philadelphia carrying only a violin. Before dying in New York 23 years later, in his ninetieth year, he would find New World respectability as a bookseller, then as the first professor of Italian at Columbia University. Abbé Lorenzo da Ponte, a scholarly poet, teacher and priest, with a devoted wife, also had a reputation as a womanizer. He charmed all he met, pioneering the place of Italian music in American life. But his self-assurance also excited mistrust. When the first Italian opera was performed in New York in 1825, he had the nerve to claim he had written it. He had, so he said, known Mozart. Like the memoirs he had recently written to pay off more debts, the old man was so full of tall stories. The many lives of Lorenzo da Ponte—librettist of Mozart's three great operas, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi Fan Tutte—begin in Venice, linger in Vienna and London and wind up in New York, where today he lies buried in an unmarked grave in one of the world's largest cemeteries.

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