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Lorenzo da Ponte
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Lorenzo da Ponte

Lorenzo Da Ponte (10 March 1749 17 August 1838) was an Italian librettist. He provided librettos for many composers, but he is famous for his librettos for Mozart's operas The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, and Don Giovanni, which are correspondingly sometimes referred to as the "Da Ponte trilogy".

Born Emmanuele Conegliano at Ceneda, near Venice, Da Ponte studied to take holy orders, proving a skilful versifier in both Italian and Latin. Appointed as a professor in literature at Treviso Seminary in 1773, his radical views and immoral behaviour led to his banishment from Venice in 1779.

Relocating to Vienna, Da Ponte was appointed librettist to the New Italian Theatre in 1781 on the recommendation of Antonio Salieri. His first major success was in adapting Beaumarchais's comedy for Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro (1786). Don Giovanni (1787) and Coś fan tutte (1790) followed, together with libretti for other composers including Salieri and Martín y Soler.

Banished after nine years, again because of scandal, Da Ponte wandered through Europe, made an unhappy marriage, and settled in 1791 in London. There he worked as a tutor of Italian, as a bookseller, and as a librettist to the Drury Lane Theatre, until he went bankrupt in 1804.

In 1805, Da Ponte emigrated to the United States, but he failed to establish himself a grocer in New Jersey. The rest of his life, he spent as a celebrated teacher of Italian language and culture. He taught nearly two thousand private pupils and was appointed professor of Italian language and literature at Columbia in 1830. His library, bought by the university when the chair was established in 1825, formed the nucleus of its collection of Italian poetry and miscellaneous literature.

In 1833, Da Ponte was one of the founders of the Italian Opera House in New York City, where 28 performances of Italian opera were given before the theater was transferred to other management. The venture represented the first attempt to establish Italian opera permanently in the United States. His last years were marred by poverty and the failure of his Italian opera, and he died a pauper.

Da Ponte's memoirs (1823-27) detail his extraordinary life, but the text is considered historically unreliable (ISBN 0940322358).