Mozart in Italia Project Celebrates 250th Anniversary of Mozart's Journey

UPDATE // July 19, 2020  Today, I'm announcing the cancellation of Mozart in Italia 250 due to COVID-19. The pandemic is a fo...

UPDATE // July 19, 2020 

Today, I'm announcing the cancellation of Mozart in Italia 250 due to COVID-19. The pandemic is a formidable enemy. Current circumstances have reduced many of us to prioritize daily survival (financial, medical, etc.) over everything else in our lives and this new reality has impacted the trajectory of this project in terms of its anticipated scope and participation. 

Please note that the cancellation of this project does not effect the ongoing programming of the Associazione Mozart Italia and European Mozart Ways which is expected to continue. I hope that, one day soon, we'll be able to celebrate Mozart together again in a manner we all deserve. Thank you for your support and understanding during this difficult time. 



I'm honored to announce a new initiative, Mozart in Italia 250, in partnership with Associazione Mozart Italia (AMI) and European Mozart Ways (EMW). Since 1770 is such a significant year in the Mozart biography as it pertains to his travels to Italy, I wanted to create a way to bring recognition to this history through a shared experience while inspiring morale amidst the pandemic. Mozart in Italia 250 celebrates this anniversary and more broadly recognizes the composer's relationship with Italy that began 250 years ago and continues today.

The call of fandom is an approach I've used successfully in past projects, including those exhibited at the Mozarthaus Vienna. And this time, I'm asking Italian fans to share a celebratory photo or video from their home, garden, balcony, or any other location convenient for social distancing. And whether or not they live in a particular location Mozart visited in 1770, or during his three tours (1769-1773), this collective effort to capture the here and now will result in a "living map" or "living history" that's symbolic of his journey.

Last month, I presented the idea to my friend Greta Di Raimondo, Interim President of AMI Parma. She embraced the project with enthusiasm and immediately contacted AMI Founder Arnaldo Volani, whose support I also received that same day. Following their approval, I contacted my Salzburg colleague Gerhard Spitz, EMW Secretary General, who was keen to promote it through his organization's network representing all of the countries Mozart ever traversed.

While Mozart in Italia 250 focuses on Mozart and Italy, this project is intended for everyone because it is our shared heritage. Now through the August 1st deadline (and beyond!), we can join our Italian friends by following Mozart's 1770 travels through an interactive map, travel letters and other resources on European Mozart Ways. We can listen to the music Mozart composed during this time period. We can utilize and stay attuned to the #MozartInItalia250 hashtag across social media. And we can party like it's carnival season in Venice on the Facebook event page where we can share, interact and celebrate the journey together!

Greta studies at the Università Iuav di Venezia and is a gifted filmmaker, so I asked if she'd be willing to weave a tapestry of the project's media submissions into a video. She has committed to the task, so we have much to look forward to in the culmination of this material through her work! To get an idea of Greta's passion and ability, watch her documentary from Mozartwoche 2017 (Mozart Week 2017) in collaboration with AMI and the Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg.

This video will be a compliment to the other objectives previously mentioned. Mozart in Italia 250 aspires to reimagine Mozart's travels through crowdsourced media from Italian fans, build recognition for this history and heritage and elevate esprit de corps among audiences internationally. And all of this will be achieved through our ongoing web-based campaign powered by activity on the event page and respective partner pages (see the Facebook pages for AMI and EMW).

My December article, The Mozart Verona Portrait and the Question of Cultural Heritageabout the January auctioning of the 1770 Mozart portrait, in many ways prefaces this newly realized effort, but it was the pandemic's brutal toll on Italy that ultimately influenced the creation of Mozart in Italia 250 and its people-centric approach to acknowledging the anniversary and its milestone events, including:

January 1770 - The 13-year old Mozart is painted from life in what is now known as the Verona portrait, one of few authenticated portraits of the composer. 
July 1770 - Mozart is awarded the Order of the Golden Spur by Pope Clement XIV for transcribing Allegri's Miserere from memory upon hearing its performance in the Sistine Chapel in April.
October 1770 - After studying with Padre Martini, Mozart takes the entrance exam and is admitted into the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna.
December 1770 -  The premiere of Mitridate, re di Ponto (Mithridates, King of Pontus) represents Mozart's debut in Milan and initiation into the world of Italian opera. It is a critical and popular success with 22 performances, the first three conducted by Mozart at the harpsichord. He receives two additional commissions.
Mozart in Italia 250 is a campaign that, during an extraordinary moment in our own history, pauses to celebrate that of another: the enduring artist who continues to bring us together in harmony, all around the world.


The Met Opera's Stream of Cosi fan tutte on Easter Honors New York's Cultural Icons

A scene from The Met Opera's 2018 production of  Cosi fan tutte . Happy Easter! As we spend the holiday through social distanci...

A scene from The Met Opera's 2018 production of Cosi fan tutte.

Happy Easter! As we spend the holiday through social distancing due to the pandemic, I hope all of us manage to find comfort and encouragement from many sources, including Mozart's music. Through the generosity of orchestras, opera companies and individual artists around the world, we are so incredibly fortunate to find ourselves enveloped in an abundance of content as we shelter in place. Although our industry is dealing with unparalleled economic challenge, and as professionals our future is uncertain, our communal call to action remains steadfast.

One benevolent gesture that I'd like to bring to your attention for its contextual, historical and cultural significance, is tonight's free stream of Cosi fan tutte by The Metropolitan Opera. The company began its schedule of evening streams featuring archival content on March 16th and now in its fourth week, will present a Mozart opera for the first time. But it's not just any opera, or any production.

Cosi fan tutte is the third and final collaboration between Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte who immigrated to the United States in 1805 and lived the majority of his last 33 years in New York City. To learn more, read my recent article, "Building Recognition for Lorenzo Da Ponte's American Legacy."

The Met's 2018 production taking center stage tonight is set in 1950s Coney Island, a traditional summertime destination for New Yorkers and visitors alike. The opera's playful boardwalk amusement park atmosphere transports us to the carefree days of a summertime past. It premiered in March 2018 and two months later in May, the iconic Coney Island Boardwalk was designated as a scenic landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). Read more.

Lincoln Center Plaza: Visiting The Met on a beautiful, sunny day!

With New York City being the current epicenter of the pandemic, tonight's stream is timely and emotional. While the stage is dark and the city deals with an unprecedented moment in history, Cosi fan tutte brings us together in honor of its cultural icons: The Met, Coney Island and Lorenzo Da Ponte. I love this city and its resilient character. My heart goes out to everyone there, including my favorite New Yorker who took the above photo of me in Lincoln Center Plaza: author Stephanie Cowell!

I've seen many Mozart operas at The Met and there's no substitute for being there in person, but the next best thing is The Met: Live in HD experience whose content we're now gifted to enjoy for free at home. I hope you'll join me tonight at 7:30pm EDT to watch Cosi fan tutte. The opera will be available until 6:30pm EDT tomorrow. Also, be sure to check out the panel discussion that was recorded in advance yesterday!

To date, the national Live in HD outreach campaign I created in partnership with Fathom Events has offered over 100 free tickets to fans in 14 states to experience five Mozart operas at their local cinemas through this series. The next Mozart opera planned for HD transmission is a new production of Don Giovanni (his second collaboration with Da Ponte) in March 2021.

I'd like to close with the final text of Cosi fan tutte, translated by the late J.D. McClatchy, an American poet, librettist and literary critic. His book, Seven Mozart Operas: A Verse Translation, was dedicated to Peter Gelb, The Met's General Manager. I hope we find some morale and wisdom here. I'm wishing you every happiness on this Easter Sunday!

Happy is the man who looks
On the bright side of everything,
And in all circumstances and trials
Lets himself be guided by reason.

What only makes the others weep
Will be for him a source of joy,
And amid the storms of this world
He will find his peace in every season.


The Chronicles Launches on Patreon

It's Patreon launch day! Since my authorship began with The Chronicles of a Modern-Day Mozartian , I've never monetized it thro...

It's Patreon launch day! Since my authorship began with The Chronicles of a Modern-Day Mozartian, I've never monetized it through subscription fees, paywalls, ads or affiliate marketing. Since 2006, readers have had access to what I've created for public consumption at no cost, but now I'm asking that my readership arrive at this content in a financially supporting role through Patreon, a membership platform that empowers creators to earn recurring, sustainable income.

For only $5/month, you can become an active subscriber and join a private community where you'll enjoy exclusive content like early access updates and have the opportunity to engage in discussions with me about the future of The Chronicles. Learn more about membership and how your support will advance my work for our mutual passion!

For those of you who are new to The Chronicles, welcome! I invite you to look through my site to learn more about my career highlights and recent achievements. You'll find that it's more than a blog. It's a platform that represents my fieldwork, fan projects and other preservation initiatives for Mozart. The Chronicles is a catalyst for action. Over the years, I've fondly referred to the community I've built as "The WolfGANG," which is the name of my Patreon membership.

My emphasis on community in addressing the needs of music heritage preservation on a holistic level is the essence of my concept for Musicopolis. Preservation success depends on our relationships with each other and our environments. Music, memories, artifacts, architecture. Music fans, musicians, professionals, educators, civic leaders. We are interconnected, comprising a dynamic and diverse city with a single mission: to see our music history and heritage thrive, inspire and sustain.

Professionals and general audiences alike play a vital role as guardians and advocates, but we tend to operate independently in a vacuum, not through a more concerted effort for greater effect. We're storytellers who provide context, socio-cultural perspective and human interest. We're agents of this living and ever-evolving history of which we are a part. Our collective voice is one of immense power and beauty, giving rise to the meaning and potential of community.

My new membership initiative with Patreon is Musicopolis in practice. It is a public funding model (crowdfunding/sourcing/networking) that brings stakeholders from all sectors together in equal discourse while creating funds to further a shared vision.

In a world of saturated entertainment landscapes, our musical past is endangered, and business as usual isn't the solution. I invite you to join me in this exciting step towards realizing a new approach to the preservation of our music history and heritage!


Building Recognition for Lorenzo Da Ponte's American Legacy

CeCe, Martha Lee and Clay with Da Ponte's portrait at Columbia University. Photo: Nayo Titzin. In the United States, W.A....

CeCe, Martha Lee and Clay with Da Ponte's portrait at Columbia University. Photo: Nayo Titzin.

In the United States, W.A. Mozart's librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte is our only tangible connection to the composer and to late 18th Century Europe which witnessed the height of their combined artistic powers in Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte. After the deaths of Mozart and his patron Emperor Joseph II along with a series of unfortunate events, Da Ponte moved to New York City by way of Philadelphia in 1805, lived in Sunbury, Pennsylvania for seven years (1811-1818) and returned to the city where he remained until his death in 1838.

While largely remembered for his life and achievements in the old country, Da Ponte had a noteworthy Atto Secondo in the New World. He introduced Americans to the Italian language, literature and opera. He was the first Professor of Italian at Columbia College (now Columbia University). He welcomed the first Italian opera troupe to the United States and founded the country's first opera house, the New York Opera Company, a predecessor of the Metropolitan Opera.

Like Mozart, Da Ponte's exact burial place is unknown. He died at 91 Spring Street in Manhattan and was interred at a Catholic cemetery near St. Patrick's Old Cathedralthe location of his funeral. But it was later discovered that this cemetery was demolished in 1909 and the remains were moved without headstones to Calvary Cemetery in Queens. The Native New Yorkers Association determined the approximate location of his grave and held small memorial services there in 1967, 1981 and 1985.

Lorenzo Da Ponte's memorial in Calvary Cemetery. Photo: Marcial,

In October 1987, during Italian Heritage and Culture Month, a granite monument was dedicated to Da Ponte in Calvary Cemetery. It was a response to the negligence of an icon, perhaps compounded by his absence in the Academy award-winning Amadeus, released three years earlier. It was a missed opportunity for Hollywood to not at least give a mention to a central character in Mozart's life who lived his last three decades in the United States and whose libretti feature in the film via Axur, re d'Ormus (Salieri) and Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni (Mozart).

''He is never mentioned in the play or film Amadeus. Yet, his librettos and connections were integral to Mozart's successes," stated Forest Hills Councilman Morton Povman at the monument dedication. The event was given some publicity in the October 21, 1987 New York Times article, "For Mozart's Librettist, a Queens Fanfare."

Da Ponte's resting place connects Americans to Da Ponte and Mozart in a way that performances at Lincoln Center or any other opera house or concert hall in the country cannot. Also sacred to that physical bond are Da Ponte's descendants and the historical sites associated with his life.

While Da Ponte had successes in the United States, he also lived in relative obscurity and grappled with finding his place just like any other newcomer. He navigated poverty and hardship through enterprise, working as a grocer, bookseller, distiller and teacher. As grandiose as Da Ponte's life was at times in Europe, it was grounded here. His is a relatable story, one whose ambitions and vulnerabilities bring us closer to the history and heritage.

Historical marker for Lorenzo Da Ponte in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Photo: Joseph A., Flickr.

When I was the North American theatrical release manager for In Search of Mozart, Director Phil Grabsky introduced me to Clay Alder, a great-great-great-great grandson of Da Ponte. I then met his wife CeCe Gable, a jazz singer and music educator who, like myself, was from Ohio.

Among the events and activities I organized surrounding the film was an interview for Clay and CeCe on the regional NBC-affiliate WTAP-TV. I scheduled it during Mozartwoche (Mozart Week), an annual festival held to celebrate Mozart's birthday in his native Salzburg, Austria.

Clay offered family anecdotes and encouraged audiences to indulge in a screening of In Search of Mozart as well as one of his favorite books, The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart's Poet, Casanova's Friend, and Italian Opera's Impresario in America, to learn more about his famed forefather.

When Clay and Phil met at the Gene Siskel Film Center for In Search of Mozart's Chicago premiere where it had a record-breaking run, they signed a DVD in gratitude for my work. It's among my most prized possessions as a preservationist!

The cover of my In Search of Mozart DVD signed by Clay and Phil.

Through my partnership with Fathom Events and the Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD series, I've led a campaign to promote Mozart's operas, including his trilogy with Da Ponte, awarding over 100 free tickets to fans in 14 states to enjoy the art form at their local cinemas. And throughout it all, I've had the support of Clay and his family:

"After our meeting through Phil Grabsky's In Search of Mozart, Sherry organized a regional television program for Mozart Week where I was given the opportunity to speak directly to viewers about my ancestor. In her passion for the Mozart/Da Ponte operas, Sherry has promoted Le nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte and Don Giovanni in cinemas and works to save this precious musical history. Lorenzo Da Ponte's 21st Century American descendants would like to express our heartfelt thanks to Sherry who has done so much to keep alive a remarkable relationship cut so abruptly short by Mozart's untimely death." -Clay Alder

Clay invited me to the Austrian Cultural Forum's inaugural Da Ponte Day as a guest of the family. It was during this event when I met his Aunt Martha Lee, an accomplished professor, lecturer, author, feminist and widow of the late Durant Da Ponte.

My view from the front row at ACFNY's Da Ponte Day event!

It was a full schedule. We attended the symposium, enjoyed dinner together with others from the event and attended an evening concert presented in partnership with the Don Juan Archive Vienna and the Mozarteum University Salzburg.

The next day, I met the family at the Casa Italiana which houses Columbia University's Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America for interviews with Bulgarian filmmaker Nayo Titzin. Appointed in 1825, Da Ponte was their first Professor of Italian. I learned more about the man whose portrait gazed curiously at us from above by observing Clay and Martha Lee's interviews.

Nayo has directed and produced documentaries about Mozart's operas, including Idomeneo, A Message of Humanity and Looking for Don Giovanni.

My photo of the Casa Italiana before venturing inside.
I captured a moment of levity as Nayo filmed Clay and Martha Lee for a documentary.
Clay's photo of myself, Martha Lee and CeCe with Da Ponte's portrait!

After dinner, we attended a performance of Le nozze di Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera. While we chatted and the orchestra warmed up, those seated around us overheard our conversation and soon discovered the special guest in their section. 

Clay, friendly and unassuming, was amused by the attention he received from Da Ponte's admirers (I think he may have signed a program or two!). It was surreal to be sitting in the Grand Tier with him, watching and cheering on arguably one of the greatest collaborations in operatic history between his ancestor and Mozart.

With the last known direct descendant of the Mozart family passing away in 1965 (Karoline Grau, née Mozart), there was never an opportunity for me to connect with the composer's family. So, I feel all the more fortunate to enjoy such a connection with the family of his poetic counterpart!

Following the performance, Nayo took us backstage to meet Swedish baritone Peter Mattei and German soprano Marlis Petersen who performed the roles of Count Almaviva and Susanna. Note: Peter will be singing the title role of Don Giovanni in a new production at the Met which will be in cinemas nationwide on March 27, 2021!

CeCe, Nayo, Martha Lee, myself and Clay at the Metropolitan Opera for Figaro!

The singers joined us on a short walk from the opera house to P.J. Clarke's where we remained well into the morning. Our round-table of singers, Da Ponte family members and music professionals was icing on the cake. I was energized and inspired. We discussed ideas and planned to meet again. I sat next to Martha Lee, who enjoyed a good martini, and referred to me as an "Honorary Da Ponte."

Martha Lee left such an impression. She was worldly, charming and shrewd. We didn't stay in touch regularly after our meeting, but Clay sent updates. I did call her once to chat about a friend she knew in Knoxville who attended high school with The Everly Brothers for my popular music work and to offer tickets to see Don Giovanni at her local cinema through my collaboration with Fathom Events. We kept an eye on the future, but little did we know that the future we anticipated was all but lost.

In a December email, Clay informed me that Martha Lee had passed away. I was shocked and saddened. She was such a life force. We had work to do, an unrealized collaboration. It was a harsh reminder of the limitations of time as it pertains to our own mortality and to that of preserving our musical past.

A Da Ponte by marriage, Martha Lee enjoyed a long life worthy of the name through grand adventure, intellectual fulfillment and perseverance in the face of tremendous challenge. Read her obituary.

I'm on the right between Martha Lee and CeCe enjoying our afterglow at P.J. Clarke's!

Martha Lee's loss has strengthened my resolve to do more to move the dialogue forward about creating greater recognition for this heritage that is unique to Da Ponte's American story, an immigrant's story, which will in turn reinforce our stateside relationship with Mozart. I hope to someday be worthy of the designation she gave me as an "Honorary Da Ponte."

I've written this article in her loving memory to create awareness and a prelude to my future request for support when the opportunity arises. I have passion, a platform, no shortage of ideas and a community of Mozartians I've nurtured over the years who I hope will reward me with action for the cause. Any initiative given serious consideration will be done so in direct consultation with the family per their endorsement.

In a preface to the 1959 edition of Da Ponte's memoirs, Thomas G. Bergin wrote: "By tradition, education, and experience, this European sophisticate would seem to be far removed from the American Psyche; but his deeper nature -- eager, adventurous and basically evangelical -- was well-adapted to the New World."

Let us be eager, adventurous and evangelical in our endeavor.