My history hero: Katie Derham chooses Lorenzo Da Ponte

"He was a priest, lover, libertine and friend of Casanova – and that's all before he became the co-creator of three of the most sublime operas ever written." BBC presenter Katie Derham explains why she chose the brilliant poet and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte as her history hero

A c1830 portrait of the scandalous but sublimely talented Lorenzo da Ponte. (Photo by Alamy)

This article was first published in the April 2019 issue of BBC History Magazine

Lorenzo da Ponte, born Emanuele Conegliano, was an Italian poet and librettist (a writer of words for musical works), who famously collaborated with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on several important pieces. Born into a Jewish family, he was baptised in his teens and briefly served as a priest, but was expelled from the Venice in 1779 for his controversial views and scandalous personal life (after fathering two children with a mistress, he was charged with “public concubinage” and “abduction of a respectable woman”). He then moved to Vienna to become official poet to Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, and went on to write several acclaimed librettos. Following the emperor’s death in 1790, he travelled to London and later to America, where he taught at Columbia College.

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