Howard Jay Smith
August 23, 2022
Today I talked to Howard Jay Smith about his new novel Meeting Mozart (Sager Group, 2020).
It’s 1946, and a young army intelligence officer is awakened early by a gruff priest who needs another tenor for his church service. But Corporal Jake Conegliano has been invited to see a performance of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, and his ride is leaving soon. The Abbe Luigi Hudal won’t take no for an answer, and threatens eternal damnation, until Jake says that he’s Jewish, but will be happy to sing in the choir the following week. The priest tells him that having a Jewish heathen in his church would be like bringing Satan himself to his door. As luck would have it, that’s the day Jake meets the love of his love and sets in motion a journey to discover both his own history and the history of a famous ancestor, known to history as the librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. He was a Catholic priest who wrote the librettos for three of Mozart’s most beloved operas, and he was also Emmanuel Conegliano, a converso from a Jewish community in Italy. In rich detail, Smith weaves stories from different centuries and countries into the saga of a family that continued to be proud of its Jewishness despite expulsions, antisemitism, royal maneuvering, political intrigue, and wars. And even as the centuries progressed, their love of Mozart’s music is a binding force.
Howard Jay Smith is an award-winning writer who recently won a John E. Profant Foundation for the Arts, Literature Division Scholarship, The James Buckley Excellence in Writing Award. Smith is a former Bread Loaf Scholar and Washington, D.C. Commission for the Arts Fellow, who taught for many years in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and has lectured nationally. His articles and photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, the Beethoven Journal, Horizon, the Journal of the Writers Guild of America, and the Ojai Quarterly. While an executive at ABC Television, Embassy TV, and Academy Home Entertainment, he worked on numerous film, television, radio, and commercial projects. He serves on the board of directors of the Santa Barbara Symphony and is a member of the American Beethoven Society.