“Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749–1838) was born Emanuele Conegliano in 1749 in Ceneda, in the Republic of Venice (now Vittorio Veneto, Italy). He was Jewish by birth, the eldest of three sons. In 1764, his father, Geronimo Conegliano, then a widower, converted himself and his family to Roman Catholicism in order to marry a Catholic woman. Emanuele, as was the custom, took the name of Lorenzo Da Ponte from the Bishop of Ceneda who baptised him.
“Thanks to the bishop, the three Conegliano brothers studied at the Ceneda seminary. The bishop died in 1768, after which Lorenzo moved to the seminary at Portogruaro, where he took Minor Orders in 1770 and became Professor of Literature. He was ordained a priest in 1773. He began at this period writing poetry in Italian and Latin, including an ode to wine, ‘Ditirambo sopra gli odori.’
“In 1773 Da Ponte moved to Venice, where he made a living as a teacher of Latin, Italian and French. Although he was a Catholic priest, the young man led a dissolute life. While priest of the church of San Luca, he took a mistress, with whom he had two children. At his 1779 trial, where he was charged with ‘public concubinage’ and ‘abduction of a respectable woman,’ it was alleged that he had been living in a brothel and organizing the entertainments there. He was found guilty and banished for fifteen years from Venice.”
Da Ponte’s collaboration with Mozart, his revolutionary politics and eventual life in the United States, where he formed an opera company that was an ancestor of the Met, will be the subject of a dozen more blogs if I have nothing else to write about.