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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 11 May 2019

"Lorenzo da Ponte" by Rodney Bolt

Lorenzo da Ponte was the librettist behind the Mozart operas The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi Fan Tutte. But he was rather more than that. This man had an extraordinary life and met all sorts of people. This beautifully written biography captures something of the flavour of a man on whom fortune frequently shone but never for long.

He was born Emanuele Conegliano in a jewish ghetto in Ceneda which is now part of Vittorio Veneto in Italy; he and his father converted to Catholicism when Emanuele was fourteen and he took the bishop's name; he was later educated in a seminary and became an Abbe. But the young priest was a bit of a womaniser and followed his girlfriend to a Venice near the end of its glory days (“The mistress of the Mediterranean had become a spirited madame - ancient, decaying, but full-bent on giving her devotees the time of their lives.”; C 2) where he lived a dissolute life, writing poetry, gambling, participating in the new dance craze (the Waltz), and meeting Casanova, sharing with him the favours of a Murano nun. Eventually Venice expelled him so he travelled to Vienna, via a number of other ladies, where he charmed the Emperor into becoming poet at the Opera and working with Salieri (very unsuccessfully) and other composers and having his great triumphs with Mozart. In his forties he finally found a woman to marry (illegally, he was still a Catholic priest) and stopped fathering bastards on other women. He travelled across Europe, reacquainting himself with the now ageing Casanova, to London where he again worked at the Opera (for a man so cunning that although he only owned the leasehold of the land where the audience part of the opera house was built he owned the freehold of the land on which the stage was built) and ran a bookshop until he endorsed too many bad debts and had to flee England, following his wife and children to New York. Here he tried to develop a taste for opera in the city, also teaching Italian and meeting Clement Moore, who wrote The Night Before Christmas, and Longfellow (Hiawatha) among others. He spent sometime as a grocer and distiller in Sunbury in Pennsylvania (a town named after Sunbury-on-Thames where I grew up) before returning to New York. Throughout his long life he was repeatedly spectacularly unsuccessful in business after repeatedly reinventing himself and having a brilliant start. His energy and self-confidence was remarkable, as was his ability to make enemies. But what a life! Bolt compares him with a phoenix: “The phoenix ... invariably set fire to its own nest. Lorenzo Da Ponte was indeed a true phoenix. yet he also possessed that best-known attribute of the bird. Time and time again, he could rise from the ashes.” (C 11)

And beautifully told:
The three Inquisitors of State were a sinister offshoot of the Council of Ten, the secretive executive branch of government that was ruling with growing disregard for the assembly of patricians, the Great Council. They worked swiftly and violently ... their network of spies had once given every keyhole an eye, wrought terror with the creak of a floorboard, and brought danger to every shadow.” (C 2)
In Padua ... he found the cheapest Inn in town, and worked out that he could scrape by on one lire (twenty Venetian soldi) a day - eight soldi for a bed, five for a coffee, and seven for a diet of bread and salty black olives, which would make him drink large quantities of water to fill his stomach.” (C 3) Isn’t it interesting how many currencies of the time had the ‘twenty shillings to a pound’ system: the Venetian 20 soldi to a lire, the English twenty shillings to a pound, also called a libra, and the French, twenty sous to a livre. The French and English also subdivided the sou or shilling into twelve denarii, or pence; I wonder if there were twelve somethings to the soldi?
For most of 1785 ... [Mozart and Da Ponte] circled warily, like dogs about to settle in the same basket.” (C 8)
Travelling to Paris in late 1792 with the letter bearing a recommendation from Mary Antoinette was not the wisest of moves.” (C 12)
In Dresden, Da Ponte paid off his young coachman (who had clung to him tenaciously, despite their lack of conveyance) with a pair of fine leather breeches.” (C 12)
The Italians exalt music; the French enliven it; the Germans strive after it; the English pay for it well.” (C 12)
Castrati had long since given away to tenors ... even in England opponents of Italian opera reserved special venom for the practice (though, it must be said, far more often on grounds of their improbability in heroic roles than for humanitarian reasons).” (C 13)
The quaint old man from a distant world had vitality enough to engage them together with the respectability of a venerable culture, for those uncertain moments when young adventurers had to look back over their shoulders for reassurance.” (C 15)

Swahbuckling! May 2019; 333 pages

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