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Posted July 12, 2012
A priest who writes music, a little girl who wants to sing opera and the political world of 18th century Europe come together in a rich novel of people and music. “Vivaldi’s Muse” presents the story of baroque composer-priest Antonio Vivaldi and Anna Maddalena Tessieri from a fictional perspective. Vivaldi’s hair inspired his nickname “il prete rosso,” the red-haired priest. Anna was the woman he took into his life as a student.
The delightful book covers the period from 1719 when they first met until 1741 when his death ended the relationship. Anna, also known as Annina Girò, became the constant in his changeable world of opera and intrigue. Vivaldi trained Annina as an opera singer, wrote music especially for her and managed her career.
Some historians claim that their relationship was a physical one, though Vivaldi denied it; others describe her as an adoptive daughter to him. Kelly takes a view between the two, painting an unrequited love between them. She offers a romance of the highest ideals.
Her recounting of their story takes the reader inside the politics of the Venetian music world and the church. She has populated the book with a mosaic of compelling characters, many with hidden agendas. Kelly brings the period to brilliant life, with lines from Vivaldi’s works as well as a sharp eye for detail. Her descriptions place the reader squarely in the scene, complete with sights, sounds and smells.
History lovers will appreciate the details. Romance fans will enjoy the human story. Music lovers will find the dramatic world of baroque music spread before them like a feast. “Vivaldi’s Muse” is available in both print and eBook editions.
This review is based on a review copy of the book provided by the author. No constraints were placed upon the review and all opinions are my own.
Posted May 14, 2012
When I started reading Vivaldi's Muse all I knew about Antonio Vivaldi was that I adored his music. I had a tape - yes a tape! - that I used to play in my cassette player in my car on my commute home from work. (This was in the old days before CDs, before iPods. For those of you who don't know what a cassette tape is go search on Wikipedia.*sigh*) The music would both relax and invigorate me.
In this delightful novel the reader is introduced to Annina Girò, Vivaldi's protege. She met him at a very young age (9) and he wrote arias for her until his death - probably related to his asthma. I must admit that Annina was very, very annoying at times. I suspect that part of the time it was due to her age, part of the time it was due to her artistic temperament. There were times though, that I just wanted to slap her. Her devotion to Vivaldi was apparently complete - she had no other relationship with men while she was with him. He was a priest so it is not believed that they had a romantic affair. Who really knows?
The book was a fascinating look into the "music scene" of the time. Not to mention the cattiness of the opera world. It fascinates that a composer so well loved now was almost forgotten in his time. If not for someone gathering and saving his compositions all of the wonder that is Vivaldi would have been lost to the world. If you have never heard his music please give it a listen. There are sites where you can listen for free. It is well worth the time.
And read Vivaldi's Muse - you will enjoy that as well. It flows as beautifully as the music.
Posted March 30, 2012
As the sponsor of the Readers Views Literary Award for Best Historical Fiction, I am delighted that “Vivaldi’s Muse” by Sarah Bruce Kelly has won for 2011. I admit I know very little about Vivaldi or opera, but I love historical fiction, and Kelly has done a fabulous job of recreating the world of early eighteenth century opera in Venice, Vienna, and other significant musical cities of the time. Rather than rely on sweeping historical scenes and lots of detail, Kelly blends her research into the story in what feels like an effortless portrayal of the life of priest-turned-composer Vivaldi and the woman who was his pupil and Muse, yet never his lover, Annina (Anna) Giro.
The relationship between these two primary characters is detailed largely through Anna’s eyes as the reader watches her grow from a child of nine who dreams of becoming a great singer, to one who becomes pupil to the great maestro, and eventually becomes his dear friend until the time of his death.
Kelly does a magnificent job of keeping the reader interested in the characters while including just enough historical detail to make the reader feel he really is walking through the streets of Venice or watching prima donnas in grand opera houses rehearse their roles. Kelly also knows how to balance the characters against one another. I was impressed that she did not try to make the novel sexy or melodramatic in depicting Vivaldi and Anna’s relationship, leaving their relationship more meaningful and believable as evidenced by history, and the book appropriate for younger readers. Kelly does, however, do an excellent job of demonstrating the backbiting and envy that existed among the singers in a world where boys would be castrated so they could sing as sopranos in Rome because the pope forbid women to perform on stage, and where female singers often had to give their bodies to powerful men in the music world, from patrons to composers, so they could attain the roles they desired.
Amid this somewhat sordid but glittering world, where music reigned supreme, Kelly offers a balanced portrait of a man who was a priest but has a physical ailment that does not allow him the strength to stand and perform Mass so instead he composes operas, and of a young woman who becomes his friend but never his lover. While others, including a cardinal, insinuate that an improper relationship exists between Antonio Vivaldi and Anna, the relationship never slips into a romantic or licentious one, and Kelly, who has thoroughly done her research, knows how to tie together pieces of the true story, filling in holes with plausible fictional moments, including why the cardinal later changes his tune.
While Anna and Vivaldi are both well-drawn, I have to admit my favorite character was Chiara, a young singer who is jealous of Anna and immediately upon meeting her is determined to put her in her place. Chiara is an excellent villainess full of spiteful language and evil schemes to make Anna’s life miserable.
“Vivaldi’s Muse” is an example of what good historical fiction should be. It seeks to be realistic and true to the past and characters. Kelly’s broad brush strokes bring the people and era to life without ever boring the reader with too much detail. I hope Kelly continues to introduce us to the history of great music through her books. This reader, at least, wants to explore that great music after having read this novel.
Posted January 23, 2012
What a delight it was reading "Vivaldi's Muse". Sarah Kelly truly has a way of bringing the characters from the past to life, and making them so real and intriguing. I can tell that this is a book I will read again and again. Having already read "The Red Priest's Annina" and also "Jazz Girl" I had very high expectations for "Vivaldi's Muse", and they were met and exceeded. You will love this book!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.