Article first published as Book Review: Vivaldi's Muse by Sarah Bruce Kelly on Blogcritics.
I’ve always found historical novels to be really tricky. Make them too factual, and they become boring. Stray too far from the facts and they become too unrealistic and lose the “historic” base of the story. But when perfect balance is achieved, a historical novel, based on serious research, can be a real treat. “Vivaldi’s Muse” by Sarah Bruce Kelly certainly more than fits my requirements for this type of a book.
While I have always been an admirer of Vivaldi’s music, I’ll be the first to admit that I have never had any particular interest in his personal life. I did vaguely remember that he was a priest, but that was about as much as I could have told you before reading “Vivaldi’s Muse,” a truly enchanting story of Annina Girò, a young girl from Mantua, who had a burning desire to become an opera singer. That desire became even greater after she first met the “red priest,” as Vivaldi was known due to his red hair. Life can be full of surprises, and it certainly turned out to be extremely eventful for little Annina, who became one of Vivaldi’s most cherished protégées, and according to this book, certainly his most faithful one.
Ms. Kelly’s writing was engaging and enjoyable. While it is clear that she must have done an incredible amount of research (I am still astonished over Cardinal Ruffo’s letter, referenced in the book!), the book never became boring or tedious. Her sense of time and place was incredible, and I took great pleasure in revisiting some of my favorite spots through Annina’s eyes. While I was not really surprised at the way Venice came alive in the book, I certainly got amazed at the amount of feelings the little vignettes of Vienna and Graz stirred in me. I was there again, and in the best possible way.
The extremely charming prologue set the tone for an even more remarkable story to follow, and I’ve enjoyed every page of this book. The dialogue was always sparkling, the use of Italian added charm and depth to the story, and the use of “Venetian” made me chuckle loudly. It was just so real. While this was primarily a book about music, it was also a charming love story and a story about those dark times when a woman could not achieve much without a man behind her back.
Although there were some slightly “touchy” moments in the book, the author handled them with great sensitivity, and the book remained entirely appropriate even for younger readers. This is the type of a book that could very possibly awaken intense curiosity in a young person, and it should be required reading for lovers of opera of all ages. I firmly believe that any reader who enjoys a well written story shall find something to enjoy in “Vivaldi’s Muse,” even if they are not an opera lover. Highly recommended!
Sarah Bruce Kelly
Bel Canto Press (2011)
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (12/11)