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Overview

When acclaimed novelist Donna Leon is not conjuring up tales of crime and corruption in Venice, or reveling in delicious cuisine, she is listening to music. For Leon, patron of conductor Alan Curtis and his celebrated orchestra Il Complesso Barocco, that usually means the work of her favorite composer, George Frideric Handel.

Over the years, Leon has noticed that the great musician filled his operas with arias that make reference to animals; ...
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Handel's Bestiary: In Search of Animals in Handel's Operas

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Overview

When acclaimed novelist Donna Leon is not conjuring up tales of crime and corruption in Venice, or reveling in delicious cuisine, she is listening to music. For Leon, patron of conductor Alan Curtis and his celebrated orchestra Il Complesso Barocco, that usually means the work of her favorite composer, George Frideric Handel.

Over the years, Leon has noticed that the great musician filled his operas with arias that make reference to animals; rich in symbolism, the perceived virtues and vices of the lion, bee, nightingale, snake, elephant, and tiger, among others, resonate in his works. In Handel’s Bestiary, Leon draws on her love of Handel and her expertise in medieval bestiaries—illustrated collections of animal stories—to assemble a bestiary of her own. Twelve chapters trace twelve animals through history, mythology, and the arias. Each is joined by whimsical original illustrations by German painter Michael Sowa, and an accompanying CD includes each aria, expertly recorded by Il Complesso Barocco. A fascinating, utterly original book, Handel’s Bestiary springs to life with Leon’s knowledge, passion, and wit.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

International Praise for Handel's Bestiary

“A wonderful book. A compendium colorfully illustrated by Michael Sowa, to be enjoyed not only by musical connoisseurs.” —Der Spiegel (Germany)

“What Leon tells us is a real joy, and many of the details are unfamiliar. If as you read you listen to the music by Il Complesso Barocco that accompanies it, you are in for a sensual treat - and one which will also broaden your horizons.” —Stern (Germany)

“The book, wittily illustrated by Michael Sowa, is accompanied by a CD of arias recorded by Il Complesso Barocco. A real tour de force!” —News (Austria)

“As an expert on medieval bestiaries – moral lessons and fables about animals - she cleverly describes how Handel portrays specific characteristics of these animals in his music. Naturally a CD with all twelve animal arias is included – musical fun, with enchanting pictures by the German painter and illustrator Michael Sowa.” —Hamburger Abendblatt (Germany)

“A charming little compendium. As clever as it is entertaining. Leon doesn’t turn to modern biologists to make the case for her menagerie. Rather she reminds us what Pliny and Herodotus knew about lions, that in the Middle Ages people thought bees were a small kind of bird, and describes - without being in the least patronizing - the bewilderment with which 18th century Europe saw its first elephant trunks.” —Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany)

“A great reading and listening pleasure.” —Ruhr Nachrichten (Germany)

“A ‘total work of art’ with text, music, and beautiful illustrations by Michael Sowa … Donna Leon manages to combine three things in her book: 1. her profound knowledge of ancient nature writing (such as Pliny the Elder) and medieval bestiaries (e.g. Isidore of Seville), 2. Her passion for George Frideric Handel, and 3. her years of friendship with the conductor and Handel expert Alan Curtis. … Most whimsical and linguistically at the highest level. Rating: Great.” —KulturRadio (Germany)

“The lovely tones, amusingly entertaining words and impish drawings yield a wonderful mixture.” —Sandameer (Austria)

“Charming &hellip [Handel’s Bestiary] would make a thoughtful and unusual gift.” —Joanne Sydney Lessner, Opera News

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802195616
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/5/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 963,613
  • File size: 7 MB

Meet the Author

Donna Leon is the author of twenty novels featuring Guido Brunetti. A native of New Jersey, she has lived in Venice for over twenty-five years.

Michael Sowa was born in Berlin in 1945. His illustrations have appeared in publications such as Die Zeit and The New Yorker

Alan Curtis was born in Mason, Michigan, in 1934. In 1979 he founded Il Complesso Barocco, an international ensemble dedicated to Baroque music on original instruments and particularly to the operas of George Frideric Handel.

Biography

Donna Leon's love affair with Italy began in the mid-1960s when she visited for the first time. She returned frequently over the course of the next decade, while working as a teacher in such far-flung paces as Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, England, Iran, and China. In the 1980s, the New Jersey native made the decision to move to Venice, where she still lives.

Leon's writing career began accidentally. One evening, following a performance at Venice's famous opera house, Teatro La Fenice, Leon and some friends were discussing a certain conductor they all heartily disliked. Someone jokingly suggested killing him off; and when the conversation turned to how, where, and why, suddenly the idea for a dandy murder mystery took shape in Leon's mind. Published in 1992, Death at La Fenice introduced Commissario Guido Brunetti, the melancholy Venetian policeman who would go on to star in a series of witty, intelligently plotted, and critically acclaimed detective novels.

Brunetti is, indeed, one of the most appealing characters in crime fiction, and one of the pleasures of the series is the revelation of new and surprising facets to his personality. Intellectual, introspective, and world weary, he is also happily married, totally committed to his job, and a lover of classical music, good food, and jokes. But, above all, Guido Brunetti is "Venetian to the bone" -- born into and shaped by a society filled with cultural contradictions. Through her detective's eyes, Leon illuminates the central paradox of Venice: Beneath the ravishing beauty and civilized veneer lurks a core of insidious and utterly pervasive corruption. Brunetti's cynicism stems from his inability to stem the tide -- although, bless his heart, he never stops trying.

Elegant writing, deft characterization, and lots of local color elevate the Brunetti novels above run-of-the-mill series, and Leon's reputation has grown with each installment. But although her books are international bestsellers, they have never been translated into Italian. The author explained why in an interview with National Public Radio: " I do not take any pleasure whatsoever in being a famous person. The tenor of my life would change if these books were translated into Italian, because I'm completely anonymous here." Anonymous in Venice, perhaps. Elsewhere, Donna Leon is a rock star!

Good To Know

An opera buff with a passion for baroque music, Leon has written the libretto for a comic opera entitled Dona Gallina.

For a few years, Leon reviewed crime fiction for the Sunday Times.

In Germany, several of the Commissario Brunetti novels have been adapted into television mini-series.

A woman of strong opinions, Leon reads voraciously for topical issues to use in her novels. Among the serious matters she has written about are industrial pollution, human trafficking, illegal adoption, and corruption in the Catholic Church.

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    1. Hometown:
      Venice, Italy
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 28, 1942
    2. Place of Birth:
      Montclair, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., 1964; M.A. 1969; postgraduate work in English literature

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