Crossing Da Ponte

by Suzanne Calvin

This afternoon marked the first thrilling installment of “Suzanne’s Book Club,” brought to you courtesy of Barnes & Noble Booksellers Prestonwood Center (5301 Beltline, Dallas) and we had a wonderful, attentive and enthusiastic crowd of opera lovers who had gathered to discuss this month’s selection: “The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte -- Mozart’s Poet, Casanova’s Friend and Italian Opera’s Impressario in America” by Rodney Bolt.

By the way, if you haven’t checked out our “Figaro in Flip-Flops” series of casual pre-season events (of which the book club is one small part) proceed without further ado to the Calendar section of this website.

Anyway, the book is fascinating and a thoroughly engaging portrait of a flawed and brilliant man who never made the same mistake more than a hundred times. I was uncharacteristically nervous (good grief, after hundreds of programs and thousands of interviews — who would have thought?) kicking off this lecture and conversation. Even so, how can you lose when the subject is as interesting as the triumvirate responsible for bringing us “The Marriage of Figaro?”

Mozart, Da Ponte and Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (the playwright of the original source materials) are men who profoundly affected the times in which they lived, from Mozart’s unmatched compositions, to Da Ponte’s contributions to the appreciation of Italian language and culture in early 19th Century NYC, to Beaumarchais’ devastating and destabilizing comedies. Without these three, we might have lost “Cosi fan tutte,” “The Barber of Seville,” “Don Giovanni,” and “The Marriage of Figaro;” not to mention the American Revolution.

Even if you don’t read Bolt’s book, make it a point to find out more. You don’t have to be a president or a general to have a life story worthy of remembering centuries after the fact and few can claim lives as dramatic and surprising as these three.

Next month, we’ll be discussing Frederic Morton’s “A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889″ which is rather like a Central European “Ragtime.” Hope you’ll join us at Barnes & Noble!

— Suzanne Calvin, Assoc. Dir. of Marketing, The Dallas Opera

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