The Italian Jew Who Wrote Some of Mozart’s Most Famous Operas

March 17 2023

The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte are some of the greatest works in the Western musical tradition, and did much to build the reputation of their composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But the man who wrote their libretti, Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749–1838)—an Italian poet who spent the last years of his life teaching Italian at New York City’s Columbia University—was generally forgotten by non-experts. He was also born a Jew, as Robert Marshall writes:

Da Ponte himself was at pains throughout his life to hide his Jewish background. His Memoirs (first published in New York, in Italian, in 1823) begin with a fair warning on the first page. He declares, “I shall speak but little of my family, my neighborhood, my early years, as of matters . . . of scant moment to the reader.” . . . Neither here nor anywhere else in the Memoirs does Da Ponte name his parents or mention that they were Jewish.

It is not clear whether Mozart ever knew that Da Ponte was a converted Jew. The composer moved to Vienna in March 1781; Da Ponte arrived later that same year. The two apparently met for the first time in early 1783 at the home of Raimund Wetzlar (1752–1810), Mozart’s sometime landlord, one of his patrons, and the godfather of his firstborn son. In letters to his father, Mozart referred to Wetzlar variously as “the rich converted Jew,” “a rich Jew,” “an honest friend.”

One assumes that both Wetzlar and Da Ponte were aware that the other was a Jewish convert and that their shared background played a role in establishing their relationship, but that is not known for certain. A similar question arises regarding the relationship between Da Ponte and the [Austrian] emperor. Da Ponte claims in his memoirs that, from the beginning, he was a particular favorite of Joseph II—who had appointed him (instead of other ambitious aspirants) poet of the newly revived Italian court opera beginning with the April 1783 season. Just three months earlier, Joseph had issued an Edict of Tolerance. The Edict emancipated the Jews of Vienna and allowed them to practice their faith openly. Could it be that Joseph was aware of, or at least suspected, Da Ponte’s Jewish origins and that this fact had predisposed the enlightened despot in favor of the newly arrived and quite inexperienced poet?

Read more at Commentary

More about: American Jewish History, Austrian Jewry, Classical music, Columbia University, Italian Jewry

Strengthening the Abraham Accords at Sea

In an age of jet planes, high-speed trains, electric cars, and instant communication, it’s easy to forget that maritime trade is, according to Yuval Eylon, more important than ever. As a result, maritime security is also more important than ever. Eylon examines the threats, and opportunities, these realities present to Israel:

Freedom of navigation in the Middle East is challenged by Iran and its proxies, which operate in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf, and recently in the Mediterranean Sea as well. . . . A bill submitted to the U.S. Congress calls for the formulation of a naval strategy that includes an alliance to combat naval terrorism in the Middle East. This proposal suggests the formation of a regional alliance in the Middle East in which the member states will support the realization of U.S. interests—even while the United States focuses its attention on other regions of the world, mainly the Far East.

Israel could play a significant role in the execution of this strategy. The Abraham Accords, along with the transition of U.S.-Israeli military cooperation from the European Command (EUCOM) to Central Command (CENTCOM), position Israel to be a key player in the establishment of a naval alliance, led by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain.

Collaborative maritime diplomacy and coalition building will convey a message of unity among the members of the alliance, while strengthening state commitments. The advantage of naval operations is that they enable collaboration without actually threatening the territory of any sovereign state, but rather using international waters, enhancing trust among all members.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Abraham Accords, Iran, Israeli Security, Naval strategy, U.S. Foreign policy