Mozart Minute: Mozart’s Wordsmith
It seems no coincidence that three of Mozart’s best-loved operas – The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte – were composed to librettos written by the poet and playwright Lorenzo Da Ponte.
Mozart was introduced to the Venetian-born Da Ponte by a mutual contact, who happened also to be the godfather of Mozart’s first child. Mozart’s letter of May 7, 1783, quoted in David Cairns’ Mozart and His Operas, is the composer’s only letter to mention Da Ponte by name. It reveals Mozart’s hope for a collaboration with Da Ponte – and also a certain rivalry with Antonio Salieri.
“Our poet here is now a certain Abbate da Ponte. He has a huge amount to do, revising pieces for the theater, and he has to write per obbligo an entirely new libretto for Salieri …. He has promised after that to write a new one for me. But who knows whether he will be able to keep his word – or whether he will want to. […] If he is in league with Salieri I shall never get anything out of him. But I should dearly like to show what I can do in an Italian opera.”
The fruit of Mozart’s first collaboration with Da Ponte – The Marriage of Figaro – enjoyed success in its day and remains one of the most frequently performed operas in the repertoire.